At the same time, the Chinese government has launched a crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong, first in response to protests against a 2019 law to authorize extradition to the mainland, and more recently following the imposition of sweeping new "national security" measures on the supposedly self-governing territory.
At the beginning of the year, Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, wrote to Pope Francis in response to his message for the 2020 World Day of Peace. The president used her letter to explain the parallels between Chinese attitude to, and actions against Hong Kong and Taiwan.
"I am in complete accord with your statement that walking the path of peace requires us to set aside every act of violence in thought, word and deed, whether against our neighbors or against God's creation," Tsai wrote to Francis in January, as she detailed a list of China's actions that she said constitute "abuses of power" in Hong Kong, the persecution of religious believers on the mainland, and its aggression toward Taiwan.
"The crux of the issue is that China refuses to relinquish its desire to dominate Taiwan. It continues to undermine Taiwan's democracy, freedom, and human rights with threats of military force and the implementation of disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, and diplomatic maneuvers."
Yet, as negotiations with the Communist government continue, the diplomatic discourse between the Holy See and Taiwan appears distinctly one-sided.
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.
Earlier this month, the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post quoted a Vatican source saying that the Holy See could even move its embassy from Taiwan to the mainland.
"Taiwan should not be offended if the embassy in Taipei is moved back to its original address in Beijing," the Vatican source was quoted saying.
While such a move would be seen by many observers as a dramatic diplomatic coup for Beijing, Taiwan's newly installed Archbishop Thomas An-Zu Chung downplayed the significance of the possibility, telling the Morning Post that the Taiwan mission "should be maintained" even if the official Vatican embassy is moved to Beijing.
Such a move "could happen soon if the mainland Chinese government is more open-minded and receptive towards the Roman Catholic Church," Chung said, adding that "in reality, the Sino-Vatican agreement has not had an actual impact on Taiwan's relationship with the Vatican."
The Vatican has been vocal in its desire to see a unified Catholic Church in China, presumably encompassing the official and underground Churches on the mainland, as well as the for-now independent dioceses of Hong Kong and Taiwan. If the mainland government hopes to press the Holy See into accepting a "one China" policy as a price of a "one Church in China," the signs suggest it may work.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
In 2018, some in Rome might have hoped to see the freedoms of Taiwanese and Hong Kong Catholics protected as it moved towards uniting the Church on the mainland. Yet in the two years since the Vatican-China agreement was signed, the Communist government has made it abundantly clear that they – not Rome – will be the supreme authority over Catholics in the country.
While it remains, in the eyes of many Chinese Catholics, a deeply unpleasant offer, the Holy See is still at the table.