The Vatican has been too optimistic about Beijing's intentions to re-establish diplomatic ties, the leader of Hong Kong's Catholics said yesterday. Speaking after the central government rejected an invitation for four mainland bishops to attend a conference in Rome, Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said it would be good for papal officials to consult the Hong Kong diocese on such sensitive matters in future as the local church had decades of experience in dealing with the mainland. The bishop - who has been a vocal critic of the central government but has recently improved relations with Beijing - said he regretted the lost opportunity to send mainland bishops to next month's synod of world bishops . 'Perhaps the Holy See has been too optimistic and thought the situation has now changed,' Bishop Zen said, referring to the previously frosty relations. It appears the Vatican is now adopting a wait-and-see attitude after Beijing's rebuttal. Bishop Zen said the Vatican's move was a repeat of an episode in 1998, when the late bishop Matthias Duan Yinming of Sichuan and his deputy were barred by Beijing from attending a conference overseas despite being invited by the Vatican. 'It should have been a positive development this time if the invitation had been discussed through diplomatic channels, because that would mean a diplomatic channel for bilateral communications had been opened,' he said. Bishop Zen said that while he was not involved in the affair, the Hong Kong diocese could play a bigger part in such delicate matters in the future due to its past experience in dealing with the mainland. 'Nobody ever asked me beforehand, although the matter is not directly related to me,' he said. 'Perhaps it is a one-sided wish and perhaps we think that we know better, but the Holy See should consult us in the future because perhaps we could help.' He said he would raise the issue with Vatican officials. A Sino-Vatican relations expert, Beatrice Leung Kit-fun of Taiwan's Wenzao Ursuline College, said the Vatican was testing Beijing's sincerity by releasing the invitation list without mutual agreement. 'It was a move to test the waters and see whether Beijing is genuine about wanting to re-establish diplomatic relations. But it seems China is not ready yet, and the Holy See has no illusions about that,' she said.