China pleads for "continuous improvement" of relations with the Vatican

China calls for continued improvement in relations with Vatican

China said on Thursday it wanted "continued improvement" in relations with the Vatican after the ordination in the Asian country of a third bishop in a week, the result of consultation between the two parties.

The two states do not have diplomatic relations because the Vatican is one of ten countries which recognize Taiwan (officially "the Republic of China") to the detriment of Beijing ("the People's Republic of China"). However, in 2018 they signed a historic agreement on the thorny issue of the appointment of bishops in China. The text is globally applied.

But some appointments were made without the pope's authorization. Father Pietro Wu Yishun, 59, was however ordained Wednesday bishop of Shaowu in Fujian province (east), according to the Vatican. This is the third ordination of a bishop in China with the approval of the Vatican in a week.

“China and the Vatican have maintained their communication in recent years,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a regular press briefing on Thursday in response to a question about these latest appointments.

"The provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops (...) is well implemented. China is willing to promote the continuous improvement of bilateral relations with the Vatican, in the spirit of mutual respect and dialogue based on equality ", he stressed.

This series of appointments seems to usher in a period of calm in bilateral relations. In 2022 and 2023, the Vatican had in fact expressed its "regrets" after the unilateral appointment by China of two bishops including that of Shanghai, the largest Catholic diocese in the country, indirectly accusing it of having violated the agreement of 2018.

The latter, renewed in 2020 and 2022 and whose content has not been made public, aims to bring together Chinese Catholics split between the official and clandestine Churches, while giving the last word to the Pope in appointing bishops. The text arouses criticism within the Church, with some seeing it as a control by Beijing over the approximately 10 million Chinese Catholics.

The Chinese Constitution recognizes "freedom of religious belief", that is to say that of believing in a religion, but not "religious freedom", with broader contours. The Chinese Communist Party is wary of any rival power that could potentially threaten its authority, and religious organizations are among them.

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

Image credit: Shutterstock/ Vlas Telino studio

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