Pope Francis Aims to Improve Relations with China

After decades of mistrust, the Pope is pushing for a breakthrough with China

July 15th, 2016
Jessica Sama, CD News

“Pope Francis is leading a determined push to fundamentally alter the relationship between the Vatican and China, which for decades has been infused with mutual suspicion and acrimony. Currently, the Vatican remains the only Western state that does not have diplomatic ties with Beijing, maintaining instead formal relations with the Republic of China, based in Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade province”.

“A signal of Francis’ profound desire for a rapprochement with China came last year in the form of a behind-the-scenes effort by the Vatican to engineer the first-ever meeting between the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the leader of the Chinese Communist Party.” The pope tried to arrange a meeting when both Francis and Chinese President Xi Jinping were in New York in late September to address the United Nations General Assembly. However, the meeting never took place. Moreover, after he was elected pope in March 2013, Francis sent a message to Xi congratulating him on having become president of China. Then, while flying over China in August 2014 on the way to Seoul, the pope sent his best wishes to Xi and the Chinese people. 

For the Vatican, more tight relations with China would offer the possibility of diminishing the persecution of Christians on the mainland, who for decades have been threatened by Chinese authorities. It may also ultimately create a chance to improve diplomatic relations, giving the Church full access to the world’s most populous nation.

An official relationship with China “would crown a dream that the Catholic Church has cultivated for many centuries: to establish a regular presence in China through stable diplomatic ties,” said Elisa Giunipero, a researcher at the Catholic University of Milan who has studied the history of the Catholic Church in China for 20 years.

On the other hand, for China, better diplomatic relations with the Vatican State could enhance its international image, reducing criticism towards Chinese human rights violations.

“Reuters journalists reported several interviews with numerous Catholic officials and clergy in Hong Kong, Italy and mainland China, as well as sources which, reveal details of an agreement that would fall short of full diplomatic ties but would address key issues at the heart of the bitter divide between the Vatican and Beijing.”


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