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Vatican geopolitics: Pope Francis is always ready to visit China

Vatican geopolitics: Pope Francis is always ready to visit China
Vatican geopolitics: Pope Francis is always ready to visit China

/Pogled.info/ The Chinese direction continues to be a priority for the Holy See, despite the crisis in the former Ukrainian SSR. And this will stimulate the Vatican to develop a dialogue both with Beijing and the countries of Central Asia, and with Moscow.

Pope Francis, who went on a three-day visit to Kazakhstan on September 13 for the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, addressed the Chinese topic. Answering questions from reporters on the papal plane, the pope said: “I am always ready to travel to China.”

The fact is that on September 15, the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, is also scheduled to visit Kazakhstan, who will then arrive in Uzbekistan, where he will participate in the SCO meeting. Xi Jinping is also expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin there.

Against this background, many world agencies began to predict possible negotiations in the Kazakh capital of the Pope and the President of China. However, as the Pope commented, such an “unprecedented” meeting is not yet on his schedule.

But in any case, the very fact of Xi Jinping and Francis crossing paths in Nur-Sultan, even if they did not see each other in person, speaks volumes. Speaking at the opening of the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, the Pope touched on the Asian direction.

“Dear leaders and representatives of world and traditional religions, we are in a land through which great caravans have passed for many centuries; many stories, ideas, beliefs and aspirations are intertwined in these places, including thanks to the ancient Silk Road,” said the father.

“Let Kazakhstan once again become a land of meeting between those who are at a distance from each other,” he also said.

The mention of the “ancient silk road” here does not seem accidental. The Chinese edition of the Global Times, announcing Xi Jinping’s visit to the region, recalls that “it was here (in Kazakhstan. – S.S.) that Xi announced the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, ushering in a new era of economic relations with the countries along the route. Being on Kazakh soil, Pope Francis takes another step towards China as well as Russia.

This fall, the Holy See and Beijing are expected to renegotiate an interim agreement signed in 2018 on the appointment of bishops. According to the US Catholic portal Crux, Vatican officials said they hoped the interim agreement would lead to better conditions for the Chinese Catholic community, not just to solve the issue of appointing bishops.

“The deal has brought China and the Vatican closer together over the past four years,” said Chang Chia-lin, a professor of religious studies at Taiwan University in Taiwan.

“In the future, if China agrees to a visit to the Pope’s country, I think that the opportunities for the Holy See and Beijing to establish diplomatic relations will deepen,” he added.

An important nuance here is the Taiwanese issue. The Vatican is “the last European country to maintain ties with the island, which the Chinese Communist Party considers part of its territory.”

Any agreement to establish formal relations with Beijing, according to Western Catholic experts, “would most likely require the Vatican to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan and endorse Beijing’s claims” to the island.

Shishiku Cathedral, Beijing.

Today, however, the situation for extending the temporary agreement on the appointment of bishops between the Holy See and China is not as acute as it was a few years ago, when the administration of US President Donald Trump openly pressured the Roman Curia on this issue.

The crisis in the former Ukrainian SSR cast aside the claims that the Western press had previously made against the Vatican. Even now, leading Western news agencies have tried to wring attacks on Russia from Francis’ visit and speech. Citing the pontiff’s words that “God is peace and He always leads to peace and never to war,” they interpreted this as “a veiled criticism of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, who supports the invasion of the former Ukrainian SSR and a boycott of the Conference of Religious Leaders”.

However, such judgments are strained. The Vatican confirmed that “one of the seven individual meetings” of the Pope will be devoted to communication with the head of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Antony. Francis is also said to be speaking to a delegation of Russian Muslims.

All this indicates that the Chinese direction continues to be a priority for the Holy See, despite the crisis in the former Ukrainian SSR. And this will stimulate the Vatican to develop a dialogue both with Beijing and the countries of Central Asia, and with Moscow. In addition, on the way to China, the role of Russian Muslims may increase in the eyes of the Holy See, which is a new factor that we will have to contend with.

Translation: SM

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