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June 25, 2017

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Vatican sees a long wait to set up ties with China

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Vatican's top envoy to Taiwan sees no imminent diplomatic ties with China as dialogue with Beijing has failed to produce changes in religious freedom that the Catholic Church seeks, he said on Monday.

Although the church wants better contact with millions of Catholics in China, Beijing limits church organization and public displays of faith despite "sporadic" dialogue with the Vatican, said Paul Russell, the Vatican's charge d'Affaires in Taiwan.

"I personally see no change in relations between the Holy See (the Vatican) and the PRC," Russell told Reuters in an interview.

"The Pope hopes to see full and authentic religious freedom in the PRC," he said. "Progress has been made in these areas, but conditions do not yet correspond to what the Catholic Church considers authentic religious freedom."

China's communist government does not allow its Catholics to recognize the Pope's authority and forces them to be members of a state-backed Catholic organization. China's 8 to 12 million Catholics are split between the officially approved church and an "underground" one loyal to the Pope. Benedict has made improving relations with China a main goal of his pontificate and hopes diplomatic ties can be restored after being severed after the Communists came to power in 1949.

Vatican-China ties improved earlier in the year as a bishop from Hong Kong represented the Pope at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in August. In May China's national orchestra played for the Pope at an unprecedented concert in the Vatican.

But China has said that before establishing diplomatic ties, the Vatican must sever relations with Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing claims as part of its territory.

Taiwan, which allows religious freedom, regards the Vatican as its most important diplomatic ally of a total 23 mostly poor countries from Africa, Latin America and the South Pacific.

China has about 170 diplomatic allies and has used that advantage to block Taiwan from international organizations that require statehood as a membership precondition.

In the past, the Vatican has never initiated a break in diplomatic ties with any government.

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