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Pope Francis' telegram to China's Xi was a routine gesture: MOFA

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Pope Francis' telegram of greeting sent to Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) as he flew over Chinese airspace was a routine gesture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said yesterday.

“The pope always sends telegrams to the leaders of countries as he passes through their airspace. This is part of their routine gesture and etiquette,” MOFA spokeswoman Anna Kao (高安) said yesterday.

The ministry has full respect for the pope's gesture, Kao noted.

Kao made the remarks when asked to comment on Pope Francis' telegram sent to the Chinese leader on his way to South Korea.

Pope Francis arrived in South Korea yesterday for a five-day tour. On his way to the East Asian country as he passed through Chinese airspace, the pope sent a message to Xi.

”Upon entering Chinese air space, I extend my best wishes to your excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke divine blessings of peace and well being upon the nation,” the pope said in his telegram.

The gesture is seen by many as symbolizing a thawing of bilateral relations. In 1989, Pope John Paul II had to skirt Chinese airspace in his tours of Asia.

China and the Holy See have been at odds over the Vatican's diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Asked to comment on whether the message could mean that the Vatican is ready to engage in closer ties with Beijing, Kao yesterday stressed that Taipei-Vatican ties remain strong and stable as two sides share common values of peace, social justice and benevolence.

Citing an example of the strong relationship between Taiwan and the Holy See, Kao said that President Ma Ying-jeou attended the pope's inaugural Mass in St. Peter's Square last March, making him the first R.O.C. president to attend a papal inaugural Mass.

Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) also attended the canonizations of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII this April.

The R.O.C. and the Holy See, Taiwan's only diplomatic ally in Europe, have enjoyed formal diplomatic relations for more than 70 years.

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