UPDATE Sept. 16, 7:00 p.m. with reaction MOFA:
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — While the Vatican remains Taiwan’s only official European ally, the Holy See has been seeking to open a permanent representative office in the Chinese capital of Beijing, according to the Jesuit magazine America.
Pope Francis has recently signed off on a two-year extension of the secret deal the Vatican concluded with the communist country on the appointment of Catholic bishops, according to reports. The original accord, the text of which is still being kept classified, has been widely criticized as unbalanced while raising fears in Taiwan of a diplomatic switch.
China has reportedly refused to allow a representative office in Beijing, according to the magazine’s Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell, who noted how the two sides maintain contact.
The Chinese embassy in Rome is a major channel for communication, but official delegations at the deputy foreign minister-level meet once or twice a year in Rome or Beijing. The next meeting, due in the Italian capital, was to have formalized the renewal of the agreement about bishops but was put off because of Wuhan coronavirus travel restrictions.
In addition to the delegations, a joint working group also meets, most recently convening in November 2019, O’Connell wrote. Pope Francis has also expressed a wish to visit China himself, but the Chinese government views such plans as “premature.”
The most logical next step would be a meeting between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) and Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin to “pave the way to the establishment of diplomatic relations, but China would require the Holy See to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan at that same time,” O’Connell wrote.
“Neither question has been broached so far in the bilateral negotiations, according to Vatican sources,” the America correspondent added.
Officially, the Holy See has told Taiwan that its agreement with China only concerns Church matters, not political issues such as the diplomatic relationship with Taipei.
Responding to the report in the Jesuit review, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said it did not comment on anonymous remarks or on speculation. As to the deal between the Vatican and China, MOFA said it hoped it would improve the grave issue of religious freedom, though recently, its situation had been worsening.
Taiwan will closely monitor developments and continue to promote cooperation with the Vatican and with the Catholic Church in order to deepen the long-standing friendship based on common values, MOFA said.