02/15/2020, 12.25
VATICAN -- CHINA
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For the first time in over 50 years, the Vatican's 'foreign minister' meets his Chinese counterpart

by Bernardo Cervellera

A Holy See Press office statement was released yesterday evening at 9 pm.  The importance of the provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops and the continuation of dialogue was stressed.  Silence on the difficulties facing the Christian communities and pastors.  Solidarity towards the population affected by the coronavirus.  Boost in international cooperation.  Wang Yi's criticised by the United States and Europe.  A gesture of mercy towards China, often overly "demonized".

 

Rome (AsiaNews) - For the first time in more than 50 years, a Vatican "foreign minister" has met with his counterpart from the People's Republic of China.  Yesterday, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with the States of the Holy See had an interview with Wang Yi, Chinese Councilor of State and Foreign Minister.  Both are in Munich to attend a Security Conference, which gathers at least 35 heads of state and government.

China and the Holy See had not met at similar levels since at least 1951, when Beijing broke off diplomatic relations with the Vatican and expelled the nuncio at the time, Msgr.  Antonio Riberi, who for years tried in vain to contact and dialogue with Mao Zedong.

Even the recent relations with the Vatican and the dialogues between the two delegations that occur cyclically have never involved Chinese personalities at the government level, but only employees and officials.

The Vatican press office celebrated this important step with a press release issued yesterday evening at 9 pm. Here is the full text:

"Today, 14 February 2020, at the margin of the Munich Security Conference 2020, a meeting took place between His Excellency Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, and His Excellency Mr. Wang Yi, State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China.

During the discussion, which took place in a cordial atmosphere, the contacts between the two Parties, which have developed positively over time, were evoked. In particular, the importance of the Provisional Agreement on the appointment of Bishops, signed on 22 September 2018, was highlighted, also reiterating the wish to continue bilateral institutional dialogue to promote the life of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people. Appreciation was expressed for the efforts that are being made to control the coronavirus epidemic, along with solidarity with the afflicted population.

Finally, the hope was expressed for greater international cooperation in order to promote civil co-existence and peace in the world, and considerations were exchanged on intercultural dialogue and human rights."

It is worth noting in the press release "the importance" given to the Provisional Agreement, which so far has avoided - as had been threatened in early 2018 - a series of appointments of illegitimate bishops "independent" from the Holy See.  It is also true that since the Agreement was signed, there have been no appointments of bishops: there have been two ordinations, but the candidates had been chosen long before the signing of the Agreement.  The press release then talks about the future ("continue ..."), but nothing is said about the difficulties facing the Christian communities and pastors, both official and underground.  Instead, "efforts" to eradicate the coronavirus epidemic and "solidarity" towards "the afflicted population" are underlined.  In recent days, the Vatican has sent 600-700 thousand surgical masks to China and Pope Francis has asked Christians many times to pray for the Chinese and China in this difficult moment for the whole country.

The hope for "greater international cooperation" is fundamental: the trade war with the United States, the Hong Kong demonstrations, Beijing's claims on the South China Sea and the silence of China for almost a month and a half on the epidemic are nourishing criticism of Beijing viewed with fear and as politically, economically and socially unreliable.

Today Wang Yi is due to address the Munich Conference: many experts predict that his speech will be criticized by the United States and European representatives.

The Holy See's release is a gesture of mercy towards China, often overly "demonized" for the virus and its hegemonic aims, a gesture that aims at a multipolar world, as often emphasized by Pope Francis.

Read in this light today's statement that Xinhua published at 13.57 (but which bears the date of yesterday, February 14) is very interesting.  In giving an account of the meeting between Wang Yi and Mgr.  Gallagher, it is said: "The Chinese foreign minister said that the Chinese side believes that the Vatican will play a constructive role in urging the international community to support and cooperate with China's efforts in combating the epidemic in an objective, rational and scientific  way, together safeguarding health security in the world ".

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