April 12, 2006

China official says no timetable on Vatican ties

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has no timetable for
re-establishing ties with the Vatican, a religious official was
quoted as saying, throwing into doubt earlier reports that the
two sides could have diplomatic relations by the 2008 Olympics.

Qi Xiaofei, deputy head of the State Administration of
Religious Affairs, made the remarks on Wednesday in Hangzhou
where the World Buddhist Forum, China's first international
religious meeting since the Communists swept to power in 1949,
got under way on Thursday.

Ties between China, whose Catholics must worship in
state-backed churches, and the Vatican were cut in 1951. The
Vatican has formal relations with Taiwan, the self-ruled island
Beijing considers a breakaway province.

"We gave two clear and consistent principles on handling
Sino-Vatican relations," Qi told the official Xinhua news
agency in an interview.

"The Vatican must sever the so-called 'diplomatic
relations' with Taiwan and recognize the Chinese government as
the sole legitimate government of China and not interfere in
our internal affairs in the name of religion."

Momentum for rapprochement between the Vatican and China
appeared to have been building since the death of Pope John
Paul last year and as the Beijing Games approach.

Earlier this month, Ye Xiaowen, director of the cabinet's
State Bureau of Religious Affairs, said China could establish
relations with the Vatican "very soon" if it broke ties with
Taiwan and refrained from interfering in China's affairs.

Ye gave no timetable.

Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, who has taken an active
interest in Sino-Vatican affairs, said the two sides could
re-establish ties by 2008.