04/06/2005, 00.00
Taiwan – Vatican – China
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Taiwanese president, Chen Shuibian, to attend the Pope's funeral

Taipei (AsiaNews) – Taiwanese president, Chen Shuibian, has decided to go to Rome to attend the funeral of John Paul II. Sources told AsiaNews the president is planning his trip by charter flight to arrive by Friday morning. However not all the details of the planned trip are known as yet. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, Michel Lu, said in a statement that particulars will be released this evening, and that ties between Taiwan and the Vatican "remain intact".

The presence of Chen Shuibian in Rome among 200 heads of state could be seen as a diplomatic defeat for Peking, one of a handful of states without diplomatic relations with the Holy See, which will be absent from what may well be considered as the funeral of the millennium.

Yesterday some news agencies published a statement by Mgr Joseph Zen, bishop of Hong Kong. He claimed that the Holy See is ready to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan and to initiate relations with China. In return, continued Mgr Zen, China would have to guarantee the Church full freedom of worship and give the Vatican the go-ahead to appoint its own bishops.

Vatican officials in Hong Kong told the South China Morning Post that "Mgr Zen has repeated what others have said before him". In 1999, Cardinal Angelo Sodano had said Rome was prepared to immediately "pack its suitcase" to go to Peking.

For decades, China has repeatedly said necessary pre-conditions for the launching of dialogue between Rome and Peking are the breaking of ties with Taiwan and non-interference in China's internal religious affairs. Among these "internal affairs", China includes appointment of bishops, a condition which the Vatican and Chinese bishops themselves refuse to accept.

In recent days, China has been sending mixed messages to the Vatican. While sending messages of condolence through journalists, it has simultaneously increased control checks and arrests against the underground Church, which shrinks from government monitoring and Peking considers "illegal".

Taiwan is recognized only by 25 states worldwide. The Vatican is the only European state with which the island has diplomatic relations. Thanks to small bureaucratic arrangements, many European states have extensive economic and trade links with Taipei.
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