Taiwan says will continue to push for papal visit

Taipei, Taiwan | AFP | Friday 10/19/2018 - 10:15 UTC+5 | 312 words

Taiwan said Friday it would continue to push for a papal visit to the island after the Vatican turned down its most recent invitation.

Vice president Chen Chien-jen made the invitation during an audience with the pope Sunday as Taiwan seeks to deepen ties with its only ally in Europe after the Holy See signed a historic deal with Beijing.

The landmark agreement last month on the appointment of bishops paved the way for a rapprochement between the Vatican and China.

That raised questions over the future of official ties between Taiwan and the Holy See as China makes a concerted effort to poach its dwindling number of diplomatic allies.

The Vatican issued a brief statement Thursday saying a visit to Taiwan “by the Holy Father is not being planned”.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Friday it would not be deterred.

“Over the past years, we and the Bishop’s Conference have extended invitations to the Pope to visit, to experience first hand Taiwan’s religious freedom and progress in many diversified areas,” it said in a statement to AFP.

“We will continue to extend invitations to the pope to visit Taiwan, and hope that the Vatican can accommodate such a visit,” it added.

Devout Catholic Chen’s audience with the pope came ahead of the canonisation of Pope Paul VI.

Taiwanese officials had said his visit would help deepen Taiwan-Vatican relations and that they believed the Vatican would not abandon Taiwan.

China sees self-ruling democratic Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified and demands its allies forfeit recognition of the island.

Taiwan, which sees itself as a sovereign country and has around 300,000 Catholics, has lost five allies to Beijing in the past two years.

Relations have deteriorated since President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016, as she does not recognise Taiwan is part of “one China”, as Beijing insists.