Officials in Rome and Beijing are now confidently predicting an extension to the 2018 Vatican-China deal, despite continued persecution of Catholics in the country and little visible progress on the appointment of bishops.
The Vatican-China agreement continues to be viewed by many as a bad deal for the Holy See. Rome appears to have little leverage in the talks, and few cards to play. While the U.S. has made clear its own bleak assessment of the situation, there is one dramatic diplomatic maneuver from the Trump administration that could strengthen Rome’s hand, and rebalance the relationship between all three powers.
The pivot point for such a move is Taiwan. And it may be under consideration.
Sources tell CNA that some in the White House, and in foreign policy conversations, believe Trump might be considering strengthening official diplomatic relations with Taiwan before the election, a path already begun with a 2018 act of Congress and the signing of a 2019 consular agreement. Taking more steps toward full recognition and relations with Taiwan would have far-reaching global effect, and could have considerable impact on the Vatican-China deal.
The Republic of China, as Taiwan is formally known, is the one of China’s foremost domestic and foriegn policy priorities. Seen by Beijing as a rebel province, despite never having been under Communist control, diplomatically isolating the small island democracy has been a constant priority for the mainland.
For decades, China has pressured the United Nations and other member states to de-recognize Taiwan and recognize the People’s Republic as the “only” China. Today, only a handful of nations have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, with those few now falling away under economic pressure by China.
The Holy See is the last remaining European country to recognize Taiwan, and the heart of Vatican-China relations remains working towards one unified Catholic Church in China, with the Vatican adopting Beijing’s “one China” diplomatic policy. The signs are that this may be happening.
In recent months, as the Holy See and China have negotiated an extension of the 2018 agreement, Vatican support for Taiwan has been noticeably quiet. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Holy See was the only diplomatic ally of Taiwan which did not make an appeal to allow Taiwan to participate in the World Health Organization’s assembly meetings. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in May that the Vatican would voice its support for Taiwan through other channels.
But in July, the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post quoted a Vatican source saying that “Taiwan should not be offended if the embassy in Taipei is moved back to its original address in Beijing.”
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