Beijing, China, Mar 28, 2018 / 23:00 pm
Ever since President Nixon famously "opened" China to the West, the country's rise as an economic and political superpower has been a thorny nettle to grasp. The conventional wisdom has been that, while there are grave and pervasive issues in China relating to political freedom and human rights, these will be gradually eroded by a developing economy and growing middle class - a process best hastened by open trade and engagement with Western nations.
The hope of many policy makers, be it realistic or fanciful, is that China will slowly, eventually, change from within. But as leaders of Hong Kong's pro-democracy Umbrella Movement can attest, many of them fresh from jail, if the change is coming, it isn't yet in view.
Indeed, as President Xi relaxes into his new role of President-for-Life, things appear to be moving backward, rather than forward. Political and religious arrests, forced sterilizations, human organ trafficking - these are not the stuff of Orwellian nightmares, but part of any serious discussion of the situation in China. Just this week President Xi rolled out the red carpet for the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un; a man reported to have executed musicians with anti-aircraft guns, and abducted schoolgirls for sex slaves.
In the Machiavellian world of realpolitik, in which China's status as an economic and military superpower make it too big to be ignored, governments may find that the unpalatable task of doing business with China is unavoidable. But it need not be so for the Church. The Church has no trade deficit with China, no sovereign territory to defend in the South China Sea, no national debt held by the Chinese government. The Holy See, through its status as a sovereign entity in international law, is in a unique position - it has the diplomatic clout to make its voice heard, without the entanglements of a major nation state. With this in mind, what are Catholics to make of the deal being brokered between China and the Vatican?