Beijing and the Vatican have renewed their controversial 2018 deal on the appointment of Catholic bishops in China – on the day it was to expire. It was not necessarily a foregone conclusion. The Holy See stood up to pressure from Washington to scrap the deal to appoint bishops approved by Beijing, which does not have the unanimous support of Pope Francis’ own cardinals. United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo openly tried to persuade the Vatican to adopt a hard line towards China over human rights and the treatment of ethnic minority groups. The agreement was hailed as a breakthrough 67 years after the two sides broke off diplomatic ties in 1951. But there are mixed feelings about its renewal, with critics saying it has done little to improve relations between the two sides or even head off some tightening of policies. Beijing said the Vatican and China would maintain close dialogue and work to improve ties. The Holy See said the initial application of the agreement had been positive. Supporters see renewal as a positive step towards further improvement in relations and eventual reconciliation between the official church recognised by Beijing and the unofficial or underground church loyal to Rome. Pompeo pushed a narrow perspective which the pope rightly rejected. Little was to be gained from confrontation. The church’s bottom line is firstly to ensure about 12 million followers, split between the two churches, can worship freely and safely without harassment, and secondly to unite the church, however long it takes. Chinese bishop resigns before renewal of Beijing-Vatican deal If these are the goals, then like or dislike Beijing, there is a need to learn how to work together with the Chinese government. Compared with the risk to freedom and safety of worship implicit in confrontation, this is a sensible strategy. At the end of the day a more moderate approach may be more effective in bringing positive change than the confrontation favoured by some church leaders. In this respect, because China is facing a global backlash against a new assertiveness of its own interests, it is arguably important for it to renew the deal and to be seen to gradually become more open and tolerant. President Xi Jinping has reaffirmed China’s open-door policy and said it wants to become a more open society. But it still faces criticism for its record on religious freedom, with observers claiming limited progress has been made since the deal was struck, and pointing to continuing reports of Catholics and members of the clergy being persecuted. Despite these disappointments, renewing an agreement between Beijing and the Catholic Church under which they undertake steps to normalise relations has to be good for both sides.