Taipei, Sept. 20 (CNA) A possible agreement between the Vatican and China will be aimed at Catholic religious affairs only and will not affect the Holy See's ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan), Deputy Foreign Minister Kelly Hsieh (謝武樵) said Thursday.
Both Catholic and Chinese state media have recently reported that the Vatican and Beijing could seal the deal before the end of this month, ending a decades-long dispute over the issue of the appointment of bishops in China, with some speculating that this could lead to the Vatican forming diplomatic ties with Beijing and ditching Taipei.
Hsieh told reporters Thursday that high-ranking Vatican officials have repeatedly told Taiwan that the agreement, once signed, is aimed at handling Catholic religious affairs in China only and will not touch on political or diplomatic issues.
Hsieh said such talks between Vatican and Beijing began as early as the 1990s.
Only since Pope Francis assumed the papacy in March 2013 and began making goodwill gestures to China have breakthroughs been achieved, he said.
Even if the bishop appointment issue is resolved, there are hundreds of other Catholic religious issues in China concerning religious freedom that need to be addressed by both sides, Hsieh pointed out.
But even with the Vatican's reassurance, Hsieh said, the ministry is still closely monitoring the talks between Beijing and the Holy See, as the deal will definitely mark a new beginning for the two sides.
The Holy See is Taiwan's only diplomatic ally in Europe out of its 17 worldwide. Taiwan has lost five allies since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in May 2016.
Catholics in China are currently split between those in so-called "underground churches" that recognize the pope in the Holy See and those belonging to a Chinese state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association in which bishops are appointed by the government in collaboration with local church communities.
Under the anticipated deal, the Vatican will have a say in negotiations for the appointment of future bishops, according to foreign media reports, bringing the two sides closer on a key issue that has divided them.