Vatican insists it will continue to recognise Taiwan despite reports of thaw in relations with Beijing

Catholic Church reaffirms importance of links with Taipei amid claims it is exploring ways of normalising its ties with mainland authorities

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 12:15pm

The Vatican’s official recognition of Taiwan will remain in place, a senior Roman Catholic official has insisted following reports that the Holy See is seeking to normalise ties with Beijing – a move that could result in the termination of its formal relations with Taipei.

The Vatican is the only European state that maintains formal diplomatic relations with Taipei.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, declared on Thursday in a reception hosted by Matthew Lee Shih-ming, Taiwan’s ambassador to the Holy See, that the Vatican would continue to honour its relations with Taiwan.

He was quoted by Taiwan’s semi-official Central News Agency as telling Lee that he could “guarantee that the Vatican would continue as a committed partner” of Taipei, and that he supported any constructive dialogue between the two parties to improve and enhance their exchanges.

Gallagher said since Chiang Kai-shek’s government and the Vatican established official ties in 1942, there have been many changes in the world, but the friendship and cooperation between the two have never changed.

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His comments followed reports that the Vatican had engaged Beijing in dialogue over normalising their relationship in recent years.

Rumours have it that the Vatican might switch recognition from Taipei to Beijing after Cardinal Jospeh Zen Ze-kiun, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, said in an interview with a local news media on Tuesday that the Holy See was highly likely to make such a move.

He called on the Taiwanese government to be prepared for such a development.

Anna Kao, director general of European affairs in Taiwan’s foreign ministry, said Taiwan was an important political ally in the Holy See’s international humanitarian and charitable work. However, she said Taiwan will closely follow any developments between Beijing and the Vatican.

Beijing broke ties with the Vatican in 1951 two years after the Communists won the Chinese civil war that also sent Chiang’s Nationalists to Taiwan, where they set up an interim government.

Since then, the Communist Party has closed churches and imprisoned priests.

Catholics may legally practise their religion only in state-sanctioned churches, which are not overseen by the Vatican and have bishops that are appointed by the Beijing authorities rather than the Pope.

Earlier this year, Taiwan Vice President Chen Chien-jen acknowledged that China-Vatican dialogues have focused largely on the issue of who could appoint bishops.

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But analysts said as soon as the two sides reach a consensus on episcopal appointments – one of the key topics in their talks – the Vatican might have to drop Taipei for Beijing because it would be impossible for the mainland to allow the Holy See to retain formal ties with Taiwan.

“Beijing is likely to woo away the Vatican in an attempt to further suppress Taiwan,” said Yen Chen-shen, a research fellow at National Chengchi University’s institute of international relations in Taipei.

Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province subject to eventual union – by force if necessary.

It has suspended talks and exchanges with Taiwan and convinced Panama and Sao Tome and Principe to switch their recognition from Taipei to Beijing since Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, became president in May last year.

Tsai refuses to accept the “one China” principle and Beijing has said it will only resume cross-strait exchanges and talks when she does so.