However, the communist newspaper said a deal between China and the Vatican would be "tremendously beneficial to Catholics."
"As a result of changes in secular political patterns, disputes are inevitable in the history of religion, and may evolve into religious splits in many circumstances," the paper said, noting that the Holy See was able to reach a consensus with Vietnam on bishop appointments, so an agreement with China on the issue "would reflect Catholics' ability to adapt to changes."
The paper said Beijing has been "patient" in negotiations with the Vatican and has "stuck to principle" while also managing differences. And despite what the paper called a "difficult process," it said most non-Catholics in China "have never been strongly against the Vatican. The Chinese public generally respects each Pope."
"Beijing and the Vatican will establish diplomatic relations sooner or later. We believe Beijing's diplomats can manage the negotiations well, taking account of the national interest and the religious beliefs of Catholics."
Pope Francis, the paper said, has a positive image with the Chinese public, and "it is expected he will push China-Vatican ties forward and solve related problems with his wisdom."
In a separate Feb. 6 analysis , The Global Times cited the possibility that the Vatican and China could use the Vatican's agreement with Vietnam on bishop appointments as an example for how to shape their own deal.
Implemented by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, now Secretary of State, in 1996, the Vietnam model requires bishop candidates to be approved by the Vatican and Vietnam, with the Holy See proposing three bishops to the Hanoi government, and Hanoi making the final choice.
This approach has long been considered a model for a Vatican-Beijing deal, and as the possibility of an agreement takes clearer shape, the theory seems more likely.
According to the Global Times, Yan Kejia, director of the Institute of Religious Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said it's too early to tell what exactly the deal between China and the Vatican will look like, but a "special mechanism" ought to be put into place to help avoid confusion and the possible breach of the agreement in the future.
Elise Harris was senior Rome correspondent for CNA from 2012 to 2018.