View From Rome
20 April 2017
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As North Korea’s nuclear ambitions intensify, the world is looking nervously towards the East. The growing tensions between Pyongyang and the United States have been described as the “Cuban missile crisis in slow motion”.
Many are relying on China to negotiate a peaceful solution, and Beijing’s Xi Jinpeng’s relatively statesmanlike, globalist perspective is often contrasted with Donald Trump’s more narrowly nationalistic, inward-looking approach. For the Holy See, all this gives added impetus to a long running and cherished diplomatic objective: the re-establishment of its ties with China.
Last week an intriguing letter was published in the Financial Times from an academic who has worked across Asia for the last 50 years. He believes that it is “more than probable” that Pope Francis and President Xi will hold an historic first meeting before Christmas. “Go-betweens from the Vatican and Zhongnanhai [the Chinese leaders’ compound next to the Forbidden City in Beijing] are actively working on it,” wrote Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Emeritus Professor at the IMD business school in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The word in Rome is that a deal is edging ever closer. Vatican officials have reportedly struck an agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops, the major area of division being between the state-sanctioned Catholics and the underground communities. One diplomatic source, saying a deal would be a “win-win” for both sides, put it this way: “They are two ancient entities, who bemuse, puzzle and fascinate each other.”
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