On Monday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman laid out China’s hopes for the post-Benedict XVI era of Vatican-China relations. From CCTV English:
China is willing to develop relations with the Vatican if the Vatican severs its diplomatic ties with Taiwan and refrains from interfering in China’s internal affairs, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday.
Hong said China hopes the Vatican will show flexibility and sincerity in creating conditions for the improvement of China-Vatican ties under the new pope.
Hong urged the Vatican to recognize the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government representing China, as well as recognize that Taiwan is part of China.
The Vatican must also refrain from interfering in China’s internal affairs, particularly the interference in the name of religion, Hong said.
Since this is the Vatican we’re talking about, in what ways would the Vatican interfere that aren’t in the name of religion?
China’s demand for the severing of ties with Taiwan isn’t a new tactic. In fact, it seems to be a standard prerequisite for normalizing relations with the PRC (China wanted a similar concession from the US during the Cold War, but things got a little dicey).
Meanwhile, persecution of Christians in China is on the rise. According to a report from China Aid, persecution of Christians in 2012 represented a 42 percent increase from the year before. And as per usual, the CCP and the Vatican are at constant loggerheads over the appointment of bishops.
I get the sense that few expect the Vatican to actually comply with China’s requests – and, should they do, expect a fiery response from this writer. In fact, the actual content of these statements is probably the least surprising thing about it. What is most interesting is how China chooses to engage with the Vatican – namely, it treats the Holy See as if it were any other foreign state. Want to improve ties with us? First, endorse the One China policy. Second, don’t meddle in our affairs.
But unlike its relationships with other states, the variables at play between the China and the Vatican are both unique and far more limited. There’s barely any economic or territorial leverage to be had here. Instead, it has everything to do with whether or not the CCP should regulate Chinese religious institutions – namely, the Chinese Patrotic Catholic Association.
On a state-to-state level, I don’t expect this statement to cause any tectonic shifts in the Vatican’s stance towards China. On one level, it would be nonsensical to sever ties with Taiwan, a country with freedom of religion, in favor of “developing ties” with China, where freedom of religion is limited. Additionally, Christianity is on the rise in China, along with the government’s rates of persecution. In 2009, the South China Morning Post (in Hong Kong, where there remains freedom of press) published this magazine cover.
With all of these realities in mind, there’s basically zero incentive for the Vatican to accede to China’s requests.