China, still no ‘yes’ to Vatican agreement

At a routine press conference, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman praises the agreement’s past, but says nothing about its renewal. Clipped tones on Taiwan. China’s main aim is to get the Vatican to cut off relations with Taiwan.

by Wang Zhicheng

09/23/2020, 13.37

Beijing (AsiaNews) – For the second time in recent weeks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has praised the provisional agreement between China and the Vatican, but has said nothing about its renewal.

This is what has emerged from yesterday’s routine Foreign Ministry press conference in Beijing, given by spokesman Wang Wenbin.

At one point, a Kyodo News reporter asked: “China and the Vatican extended the agreement on the appointment of bishops. What significance does this have on relations between the two sides? With the Vatican having “diplomatic ties” with “the Republic of China” now, what effect will this extension have on the possible establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican?

Wang Wenbing’s response was very general and the standard remarks rolled out on similar occasions to describe the relationship between Beijing and the Holy See.

“The provisional agreement between China and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops – he said – has been working smoothly since it was reached two years ago, thanks to the concerted efforts, and Catholicism in China has witnessed sound development. The two sides will maintain close communication and consultation to continuously improve bilateral relations. There is good communication between the two sides. China holds a sincere and positive attitude towards advancing relations with the Vatican side. We welcome exchanges between the two sides with an open attitude.”

The response clearly lacks anything new, as if the pending need for renewal of the agreement did not exist.

Just two weeks ago another spokesman, Zhao Lijian, was similarly cautious in his statements, which again did not contain a firm “yes”.

In contrast the constant expressions of “hope” in agreements renewal “at the end of September” expressed on the Vatican side – mainly through many anonymous personalities – is striking. More authoritative, the Secretary of State Card. Pietro Parolin, last September 14, declared: “Our intention is that [the agreement] be extended, I think it will continue to be adopted ad experimentum as has been done in these two years, in order to verify its efficacy”.

Moreover, Card. Parolin spoke of “October” as the period for renewal, also because the agreement signed on September 22, 2018, entered into force a month later.

The fact remains that there is no “hope” for the renewal of the agreement in the declarations of the Chinese side. What’s more it is as if the provisional agreement’s extension were no longer what is most interesting to Beijing.

As several experts have pointed out, China’s primary interest in relations with the Vatican is to have it cut relations with Taiwan. The Vatican is the only country in Europe that hosts an embassy of the Republic of China. Removing this support would create economic and diplomatic problems, given that at present the island is recognized only by 14 other nations.

In fact, the liveliest sentences in Wang Wenbin’s response to the Kyodo News reporter were those on Taiwan: “First I need to stress that the Taiwan region is an inalienable part of China’s territory. Please remember to use its proper name “China’s Taiwan region” in the future”.

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