The new provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops, long a stumbling block, comes as ties between Taiwan and China deteriorate and Beijing makes a concerted effort to poach the island’s dwindling number of official allies, which include the Vatican.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it hoped the new deal would pave the way for religious freedoms in China, and that it trusted the Holy See would protect the rights of Catholics on the mainland.
But the ministry insisted the Vatican had assured Taipei that the agreement “is not of a political or diplomatic nature, and will not affect the diplomatic relationship that has been in place for 76 years between Taiwan and the Holy See”.
“As the world watches China increasingly tightening control over religious practices, Taiwan trusts that the Holy See has made appropriate arrangements to ensure that Catholic adherents in China will receive due protection and not be subject to repression,” the statement said.
China still sees self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and demands that allies of Beijing must give up any official ties with the island.
The Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with Beijing since 1951, two years after the founding of the communist People’s Republic, and instead maintains ties with rival Taipei.
Previous attempts to restore relations have floundered over Beijing’s demand that the Vatican give up recognition of Taiwan and promise not to interfere in religious issues in China.
The Vatican is one of only 17 countries around the world that recognises Taipei instead of Beijing, but Pope Francis has sought to improve ties with China since he took office in 2013.
Father Otfried Chan, secretary general of the Bishops’ Conference in Taiwan, told AFP the agreement was a “religious matter” not related to diplomacy.
“The pope has assured that the Holy See will not abandon Taiwan,” he said.
Taiwan, which has around 300,000 Catholics, has lost five allies to Beijing in the past two years.
Relations between Taiwan and China have deteriorated since President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016, as she does not recognise the island is part of “one China.”
There are an estimated 12 million Catholics in China, divided between a government-run association whose clergy are chosen by the Communist Party, and an unofficial church which swears allegiance to the Vatican.
Beijing has insisted that it had the right to ordain its own bishops, defying the Holy See, which says ordinations can only go ahead with the pope’s bles asing. — AFP