TAIPEI – Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said Thursday he believed ties would deepen with the Vatican, the only European nation that maintains diplomatic relations with Taipei over Beijing, after the election of a new pope.
Ma congratulated Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, and said Taiwan was “honoured to be a partner in peace” with the Vatican.
“Ma is very grateful for the Catholic church’s contribution to Taiwan…. He believes that our relations and partnership will continue to deepen in the areas of religion, academe, culture and charity,” a presidential statement said.
The Vatican is one of only 23 countries that officially recognise Taipei rather than Beijing, which still claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan even though the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.
China’s communist regime broke diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1951, and six years later it set up an official Catholic Church which does not acknowledge the pope as its head.
The Catholic Church in Taiwan also welcomed the new pope.
“I think only time can tell how the new pope will handle the Vatican-China issues but for now it’s unlikely that the Vatican will establish diplomatic ties with China because of China’s refusal to recognise the pope,” said Father Otfried Chan, secretary general of the Bishops’ Conference in Taiwan.
“Pope Francis is from Latin America and his perspective on Asia is like a white canvas with a lot of room to develop.”
The Vatican has indicated that it is prepared to sacrifice its diplomatic relations with Taiwan if religious freedom is guaranteed in mainland China and the pope is allowed to name Catholic bishops there.
Taiwan’s cardinal Paul Shan, who died in 2012, was forced to cancel a landmark visit to China in 2011 after Chinese authorities refused to give him a visa. The visit was set to be the first contact between Catholics on the two sides in more than 60 years.