Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 24, 2020 / 05:00 am
With negotiations ongoing for an extension of the 2018 Vatican-China deal, the fate of Vatican-Taiwan relations may prove inextricable from the future of the deal - and of the Church in China.
When the 2018 deal was signed, ceding some control over episcopal appointments to the Communist Party, the Holy See stressed that it was a “pastoral” not “political” agreement, aimed at bringing together the underground Church loyal to Rome and the communist-controlled, schismatic Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).
But the “pastoral” split among China’s Catholics is rooted in the diplomatic split between Communist China and the Holy See. While the Vatican may insist its goals are purely ecclesiastical, the Chinese government is unlikely to make such a distinction. And with an extension of the deal under discussion, many are now asking if the Holy See is preparing to accept recognizing “one China” as the price of a unified Church.
The Holy See has recognized the government of Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, since 1942, while the Communist People’s Republic of China has had control of the mainland since the conclusion of the Chinese civil war in 1949. While the Church has maintained an embassy in Taiwan since then, it has had no official diplomatic presence on the mainland since 1951, when it was officially expelled – creating the split between the CPCA and the underground Church.
The communist government has always made claim to Taiwan as a rebel province, insisting that there is only one China, and one Chinese government. Isolating Taiwan and curtailing international recognition of it as a sovereign democratic nation was, and remains, a central foreign policy priority.
China succeeded in getting the United Nations to cease recognition of the Taiwanese government in 1971, and since that time the vast majority of member states have severed official ties, often as a condition of increased aid from or trade with China. Taiwan has lost five diplomatic allies since 2016, with developing nations such as El Salvador, Panama, and the Dominican Republic cutting ties under pressure from Beijing.
Although its embassy in Taipei has been led by a chargé d’affairs, not a full ambassador, since 1971, today the Holy See remains the last European government, and the most prominent international body, to recognize Taiwan.