On Tuesday, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou met with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Basilica, giving the new pontiff his first close look at the long-running sovereignty dispute between the island and mainland China. China has called on the Pope to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan, whom it considers a renegade province.
The Vatican is one of the few states in the world that recognizes Taipei and has diplomatic relations with them. On Sunday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that the Vatican should “recognize the Chinese government as the sole legal representative of all China.” Hua also added that China hoped the new leader of the Catholic world would take steps towards the improvement of China-Vatican relations.
The last time a Taiwanese leader made an official trip to the Vatican was in 2005, when then president Chen Shui-bian attended the funeral rites of John Paul II. Beijing was angered at that time and filed a protest to Italy for issuing Chen a visa. On the wake of the selection of the new Pope, China did not send an official delegation. “There will be no delegation from China. China has expressed its congratulations,” said Li Xiaoyong, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Rome.
China’s communist regime broke diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1951 and set up the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association six years later. The Chinese association does not recognize the pope as its head, as the Vatican was forced to exist “unofficially” in China. Relations took a step for the worse under Benedict XVI, when the Vatican decided to excommunicate at least three bishops ordained by the official church in China. The Vatican has always reserved the right to name bishops; while China sees this as interference in the nation’s internal affairs.[ via Channel News Asia ]