A SENIOR member of the Patriotic Catholic Church yesterday urged the Vatican to develop official relations with Beijing. And he also called on overseas believers to develop a better understanding of China. Secretary-general of the China Patriotic Catholic Association, Anthony Liu Bainian, said much of the mistrust of foreign believers was due to 'a lack of understanding' about China's official Catholic church. Mr Liu said he found most overseas believers knew very little about China and their opinions were often influenced by unfavourable Western media reports. He was in Hong Kong for a four-day seminar - Church Response to Rapidly Changing Society - organised by Hong Kong's Catholic Institute for Religion and Society. It was attended by 11 mainland clergymen including two bishops, and a dozen researchers and representatives from the State Council's Religious Affairs Bureau. Mr Liu said yesterday the Holy See should switch its diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic. 'When the Japanese set up their puppet government in Manchuria [in 1932], the Vatican was the first to recognise that government,' said Mr Liu. 'Why is it that 46 years after the founding of the People's Republic of China, Rome has yet to recognise the new China? 'This is not a question of faith, this is a political question. And I must point out, the responsibility does not lie with China.' He said Catholicism was no longer considered a 'foreign religion' in China but few overseas believers appreciated the price mainland Catholics paid in bringing about such changes. 'What have we got in return? Why are we still facing prejudice and criticism? Why are we not recognised?' he asked. Mr Liu rejected criticism that so-called underground churches were oppressed. 'I don't agree that there are two churches in China - one above ground and one underground. There is only one Catholic church in this world,' he said. He said the underground church was mainly a small group of believers who preferred capitalism to socialism, and ordinary believers misled into believing that joining the official church would bring condemnation instead of salvation. He said the Patriotic Catholic Association held that the problem of underground churches should be resolved through 'love and patience' and had advised the Government not to prosecute believers unless they broke the law. He blamed the underground church problem on an order issued by Rome in 1976 which led to a flood of anointments of clergymen in China with minimum pastoral training. 'Because of this, many people who oppose socialism have been made bishops or priests,' Mr Liu said. 'If they [the Holy See] want people who support socialism to become bishops, then [Rome] should recognise the People's Republic of China. This is very simple,' he said. Mr Liu said the registration of churches was still under way. Some had been allowed to delay their registration. On the issue of Hong Kong, Mr Liu reiterated that Beijing would follow the three main principles after 1997; mutual respect, the mainland church agreeing not to govern those in Hong Kong and each side not interfering in the other's affairs. Mr Liu gave a reassurance that Hong Kong Catholics could continue their present relationship with the Vatican, despite the lack of official relations between the Holy See and Beijing. 'This is not a question of diplomacy. This is about religion,' he said.