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Foreign minister confident in ties with Vatican despite pope's Beijing ambitions

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Foreign Minister David Lin (林永樂) yesterday expressed confidence in Taiwan's diplomatic ties with the Holy See despite Pope Francis' latest remark Monday that he desires dialogue with Beijing and possibly a visit to mainland China.

In remarks to reporters on a plane returning to Rome from South Korea Monday, Pope Francis said he wanted dialogue with China and the only thing he asks in return is for the Catholic Church to be able to operate freely.

Pope Francis added that he would love to visit China by saying “Absolutely. Tomorrow” and he also prayed “for the beautiful and noble Chinese people.”

Asked to comment, Lin told the Central News Agency yesterday that he understands Pope Francis' desire to extend his good will to China because there are tens of thousands of Chinese Catholics in mainland China.

However, the Holy See's possible interaction with Beijing will be based on the principle of religious freedom, which is something the Chinese authorities are unlikely to grant for now.

The R.O.C. is a country with religious freedom, in sharp contrast with the Beijing government, Lin noted.

The minister, therefore, is extremely confident that the strong and long-lasting relations between Taipei and the Vatican will be maintained despite Pope Francis' recent gesture of good will to Beijing.

Pope Francis just concluded a five-day trip to South Korea. On his way to the East Asian country as he passed through Chinese airspace, the pope sent a message of greetings to Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping. Returning to Rome from South Korea Monday, Pope Francis again sent a similar message.

Traditionally, popes send telegrams of greetings to heads of state when they enter their airspace.

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

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

Welcome Pope to Taiwan

Meanwhile, Lin yesterday said the R.O.C. will continue to extend an invitation to Pope Francis in the hope that the religious leader will visit Taiwan in the near future.

Lin disclosed that the nation had previously invited the pope to visit Taiwan during his just-concluded South Korean tour. However, the Vatican declined the offer due to scheduling problems, Lin said.

“We will continue to invite the pope to Taiwan in the future should the chance arise,” he said.

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