Beijing Cautions New Pope on Meddling in China

Hong Kong - China congratulated Pope Francis on Thursday on his ascension to the papacy, but also warned the Vatican not to interfere in what China deems to be its internal affairs.

The reaction underscored the tensions between the Vatican and China’s government, which has been accused of suppressing Catholicism under Communist rule.

Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said that Beijing hoped the pope, who was elected on Wednesday, would work with Chinese officials on improving relations. But, she said, the Vatican “must stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, including in the name of religion.”

She also said the Vatican must sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan before ties with Beijing improve. China considers Taiwan a renegade province that is part of its territory.

The Vatican, however, has resisted cutting ties to Taiwan and wants China to give assurances on granting religious freedom to China’s Catholics.

An estimated 12 million Roman Catholics in China have been divided for decades between a state-supervised church that has appointed bishops without papal approval and an "underground" wing that resists government ties.

Believers on both sides of the divided church honor the pope as a spiritual leader, and Pope Benedict XVI tried to encourage reconciliation between them and explored establishing formal relations with Beijing. But those efforts foundered over disputes about the appointment of bishops, Chinese restrictions on religion, arrests of believers and the Vatican’s ties to Taiwan.