Beijing and the Vatican are ready to renew a deal on the appointment of Catholic bishops in China. Extending the same terms as the agreement they reached two years ago, both sides are wise to reach out to each other at a time of international turmoil and uncertainty. Pope Francis’ rapprochement will help improve the position and status of all Catholics in China. Beijing, meanwhile, has much to gain with a friendly state with such spiritual authority. The Holy See has shown courage in resisting unprecedented pressure from Washington and was right to have refused a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ahead of the US election. America’s top diplomat, who is the most senior Washington official to be so openly hostile to China, has tried to convince the Vatican to scrap the deal and instead to attack the country on human rights and treatment of ethnic minorities. It is unheard of for a top US official – or any senior Western official – to be so open in pressuring the pope, and is another sign of Pompeo’s diplomatic overreach. Given the Vatican’s commitment in the past two years, Beijing must realise by now that Francis is someone they can do business with and trust. There has been justifiable criticism that the Chinese side has been slow in implementing the full terms of the deal, the details of which have never been published. Open engagement with this most sensible and courageous of popes is an opportunity that Beijing must not squander. At a time when Beijing is fighting on so many international fronts, rapprochement with the Holy See will not only be a big score but also prove that the communist central government can be a trustworthy partner with major religious authorities around the world. It will also vindicate the pope’s wise commitment to China. Critics of the Chinese-Vatican deal almost always overlook that fact that Francis is continuing a long-standing policy that predates his office. The Vatican has long had similar agreements with the governments of Laos and Vietnam to agree on mutually acceptable bishops for selection. It is simply not the case that Beijing is demanding an exception when other governments comply with the Vatican’s choices. Pompeo gets Italian promise on 5G security but fails on Vatican-China deal The Second Vatican Council marks a pivotal reform period in the 1960s. A key document is Christus Dominus, which is the Council’s Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops. For the first time, it requests “the civil authorities … voluntarily to renounce the above-mentioned rights and privileges [that is, the selection of bishops] which they presently enjoy by reason of a treaty or custom.” Not all governments have volunteered. Hence with countries such as Laos, Vietnam and China, the Vatican must pursue and sustain diplomatic engagement, to guarantee the welfare and rights of the faithful in those countries.