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Strained Vatican-China relations unlikely to change soon.

HONG KONG, April 8 Kyodo

A change in the papacy following the death of Pope John Paul II is unlikely to repair the strained relations between the Vatican and China in the near future, Catholic academics said Friday.

Hopes for an improvement in ties were raised by recent comments by Hong Kong Bishop Joseph Zen that the Holy See was ready to sever diplomatic links with Taiwan if China reestablished ties with the Vatican.

However, critics said there are no signs for an improvement in China-Vatican relations in the near future despite a change in the papacy.

''The chance for normalized China-Vatican relations is not great at the moment,'' Beatrice Leung, a Catholic nun and professor of international relations at the Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages in Taiwan, told Kyodo News.

China expelled the Vatican's ambassador in 1951, which was followed shortly by the severing of diplomatic ties. Vatican diplomats in China fled to Taiwan, where the Nationalist (KMT) government had escaped in 1949 after losing the civil war to the Communists.

The Holy See has continued to recognize the rival regime in Taipei ever since. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and tries to isolate the island diplomatically by pressuring other countries to sever formal ties with it.

Leung said that according to diplomatic sources, China is not ready for normalized relations with the Vatican since the Catholic church pushes issues such as democracy and human rights ''which are all challenges to China. The government can't cope with it completely.''

''Furthermore, there have been signs of social unrest in the country,'' she said.

Leung also said that both Beijing and Taipei are aware that the Vatican will end its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan if China restores links with the Holy See. But China insists that the Vatican cut its ties with Taiwan as a precondition.

Prompted by a sharp rise in the number of religious converts in the 1980s which is seen as a threat to the Communist Party, China ordered the diocese to hand over its administrative power in 1989, including the appointment of bishops.

Currently, 90 percent of bishops named by Beijing have received approval from the Vatican, according to Leung.

''The Vatican and Beijing always have communications over the appointment of bishops despite the strained relations,'' Leung said.

The point was echoed by Zen in the latest issue of a newsletter published by the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong.

Zen said in the newsletter, ''Of course, before Beijing has full confidence in the (Chinese) diocese, the Vatican accepts a certain degree of involvement by Beijing (in the appointment of bishops).''

''Beijing is aware of this. Therefore, the problem is not unsolvable,'' he said.

Anthony Lam, senior research officer of the Hong Kong Diocese's Holy Spirit Center, said, ''There will not be significant change in the Beijing-Vatican diplomatic relations at least in the next one to two years since the new pope will need to deal with other priorities.

However, he is optimistic that the ties can be mended. ''Beijing's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Vatican should not meddle with China's internal matters in the name of religion. In fact, the Vatican would never do this in any country, not just China,'' Lam said.

''All Beijing needs to do is to change its wording,'' he added. ''The Vatican will cut ties with Taiwan the minute Beijing recognizes the Holy See.''

According to estimates of religious groups, the number of Catholics in China grew from 3 million in the 1980s to 12 million now, Lam said. The official figure announced by China is 5.3 million.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Apr 11, 2005
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