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September 24, 2017

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MOFA downplays pope's chats with Xi

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday said that Taiwan's diplomatic relations with the Holy See remain strong despite Pope Francis' recent correspondence with the Chinese Communist Party general secretary.

Asked to comment on a recent report that said the pope exchanged letters with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) last March — a gesture hinting closer bilateral relations — a MOFA official yesterday stressed the move won't affect Taiwan's long-time cordial ties with the Vatican.

Explaining the background for the pope's letter to Xi, MOFA's Department of European Affairs Director-General Zhang Ming-zong (張銘忠) told reporters yesterday that the papal inauguration of Pope Francis was held on March 2013.

In the same month, Xi was sworn-in as the new leader of the Chinese mainland.

Not long after his inauguration, Pope Francis sent a letter to Xi and Xi sent a reply, Zhang said.

According to information he received, the letter was only meant as a friendly gesture to extend the pope's congratulations to Xi on becoming the new leader in China and to express his care to the 12 million Catholics in China, Zhang said.

"It is only meant as a gesture of good will," the MOFA official said, continuing that the exchange of letters doesn't mean the Holy See is moving toward diplomatically recognizing Beijing instead of Taipei.

Zhang's remarks came in response to previous media reports that quoted the pope as saying in an interview with an Italian newspaper that he exchanged letters with Xi last March, just days after he was elected pope.

"We are close to China," Pope Francis said in the interview with Corriere della Sera, which was published earlier this month, the reports said.

The pope said he sent a letter to Xi and that Xi replied to him. "There are relations," he was quoted as saying in the reports.

70-plus Years of Ties

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

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

Commenting on Taipei-Vatican ties, Zhang said both sides have maintained strong and stable relations as two sides share common values on peace, social justice and benevolence.

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

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