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H.K. Cardinal Joseph Zen optimistic about China-Vatican ties.

HONG KONG, March 30 Kyodo

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Catholic bishop of Hong Kong, said Thursday his participation in rebuilding diplomatic ties between the Vatican and China is supported by the Pope and welcomed by Beijing leaders.

Zen, a vocal critic of Beijing at times and an advocate for democracy in Hong Kong, was appointed cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI last week.

He said the Vatican is ready to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in a bid to mend relations with Beijing, which had expressed discontent about the Vatican's ties with the self-rule island over which it claims sovereignty.

''The Vatican is unlikely to be able to build ties with both Taiwan and China at the same time,'' Zen said his first press conference since returning from the Vatican. ''There are a lot more people to be taken care of in China. It is a hard decision that must be made. The church will continue to communicate with Taiwan followers through other channels.''

On the other hand, he said there is a ''good chance'' of success in reestablishing relations between the China and the Vatican.

''Recently, I receive signals that I am allowed to contribute (to rebuilding ties),'' Zen said. ''The Pope gives me support, some people from the (Chinese) central government also welcome my participation. At least, I am optimistic for now.''

He said formal talks will be held between diplomatic officials of the two sides, which he will support on the sidelines.

''I can explain to the Holy See how things are in China. I hope also to have a chance to explain to our leaders in Beijing (what) the church is because they may not have correct ideas about the church, they may have misconceptions, they may think the church as it was 100 years ago,'' Zen said.

The cardinal said he does not know how the Pope is going to approach China to mend ties, but he stressed that, apart from asking China for true religious freedom, the final decision on the appointments of bishops there should be made by the Pope.

China cut ties with the Vatican in 1951 after the atheist Communist Party took power in 1949. Since then, Catholics in China can only go to state-sanctioned churches led by state-appointed priests, while followers staunchly loyal to the Vatican attend underground churches.

Zen said he will meet the Pope again to learn from him the Vatican's approach, but when or whether the Pope will visit China and Hong Kong, is ''up to God.''

Zen reiterated his earlier criticism of Hong Kong's police authorities for their ''shameful'' action in cracking down on what he called ''peaceful demonstrations'' by anti-globalization protesters during the World Trade Organization talks held here last December.

More than 1,000 protestors from around the world were detained by police after an overnight standoff on Dec. 17. Fourteen of them were prosecuted, including 11 South Koreans, a Chinese, a Taiwanese and Japanese. A Hong Kong court Thursday ordered prosecutors to drop charges against the last of the 14 protesters for insufficient and unconvincing evidence.

''The decision to arrest the peaceful Korean protesters is shameful, I think the public will agree more (after the court ruling),'' Zen said.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Apr 3, 2006
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