Beijing Tells Vatican Not to 'Interfere'

Beijing, USA - China on Tuesday demanded the Vatican stay out of its internal affairs and break off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, reiterating its long-standing conditions for establishing diplomatic relations severed more than 50 years ago.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang rejected ties between China's Catholics and the Vatican, an indication that Beijing hasn't budged on a key issue in their split despite expressing hope for better relations following the death of Pope John Paul II. Beijing is concerned the pope's authority to appoint Chinese bishops undermines its sovereignty.

"China's principle on religion is that religious groups must be independent and support themselves and administer themselves in China," Qin told reporters. "The Vatican shall not interfere with China's internal affairs."

Qin also insisted the Vatican break off diplomatic relations with rival Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as part of its territory.

"We are ready to improve relations with the Vatican on the basis of these principles," he said.

Taiwan split with China amid civil war in 1949, and China refuses to have relations with any government that recognizes democratic Taiwan as a sovereign nation.

Hong Kong Bishop Joseph Zen said late Monday the Vatican wants to cut formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognize rival China. But an official at Taiwan's Embassy to the Vatican, Kao Shy-ya, denied the report Tuesday, and calls to the Vatican were not immediately returned.

Qin said he did not know whether China would send anyone to the pope's funeral — one possible gesture that might show an interest in reconciliation.

Communist leaders ordered China's Roman Catholics to break ties with the Vatican in 1951. A government-sanctioned Catholic church appoints its own priests and bishops, though it recognizes the pope as a spiritual leader and follows Vatican doctrine.

China permits worship only in official churches. But millions of Catholics loyal to the Vatican worship in underground churches even though the government frequently harasses and arrests followers and clergy of the underground church.

On Saturday, the day the pope died, the Vatican issued a statement announcing that Chinese authorities had carried out a new series of arrests of officials from the nongovernment controlled Catholic Church.

The Vatican did not, however, issue a formal protest as it has in the past when Chinese authorities have arrested clergy from the nongovernment church.

The Vatican is Taiwan's only European diplomatic ally and rumors have long been circulating that the Holy See plans to soon sever relations with Taipei. It would be a big blow to Taiwan, which competes fiercely with China for recognition.

"The Vatican is planning to give up Taiwan. There's no other way," Zen, who heads the only Roman Catholic church on Chinese soil, told reporters late Monday. "Even though this is a difficult thing to do, it has decided to go ahead."

Zen said the Vatican won't cut ties with Taiwan until Beijing launches formal talks with the Vatican.

"There's no reason to voluntarily give up Taiwan before the negotiations start. There should be negotiations first. You concede something, I concede something," he said.

Beijing claims that self-ruled, democratic Taiwan is part of China and shouldn't act like an independent nation by establishing foreign relations with other countries. Taiwan only has official ties with 26 countries — mostly small and impoverished nations in Africa and Latin America.