Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with the States, has met with Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister. Both men were in Munich to attend a high-level Security Conference. It was the first time in more than 50 years – since the Communist revolution that brought Mao Zedong to power and resulted in the deaths by murder and starvation of some 60 million Chinese – that a Vatican “foreign minister” had met with his counterpart from the People's Republic of China.
Mao’s portrait still looms over Tiananmen Square in Beijing, which was the focal point of the last popular resistance to Communist rule in 1989, when tens of thousands were killed by the Government.
The Vatican press office issued a press release on the Munich meeting that referred to the provisional agreement signed between Beijing and the Vatican in September 2018. No details about the agreement have leaked out, but it is widely believed that in future the Pope will be obliged to choose from three names given to him by Beijing, when appointing new bishops. It has become also become apparent that bishops, clergy and laity in the underground Church, whose first loyalty is to Rome, are meant to be “absorbed” by the Patriotic” Church, whose first loyalty is to Beijing.
The Vatican press release said: “During the discussion, which took place in a cordial atmosphere, the contacts between the two Parties, which have developed positively over time, were evoked. In particular, the importance of the ‘Provisional Agreement on the appointment of Bishops’, signed on 22 September 2018, was highlighted, also reiterating the wish to continue bilateral institutional dialogue to promote the life of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people.”
Meanwhile a hardliner notorious for the demolition of thousands of Christian crosses on churches in mainland China has been appointed the new head of China’s office in Hong Kong. Xia Baolong, an ally of president Xi Jinping, has been appointed director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, replacing Zhang Xiaoming, state media reported on Thursday.
Zhang has become the most senior Beijing-appointed official to lose his job in the wake of more than seven months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong triggered by an extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
Xia was Xi’s deputy when he was the Communist party’s secretary of the affluent province of Zhejiang from 2003 to 2007. In 2014 Xia led a campaign to tear down thousands of crosses and many underground churches in Zhejiang. He became a vice chairman and secretary general of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in 2018.
Willy Lam, adjunct professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Xia’s appointment is “bad news for Hong Kong”. “It signals that China will bring Hong Kong under closer scrutiny and tighten control over all aspects of the city,” he said.
“He has a track record as a hardliner. If the central authorities want a crackdown, he would not spare any efforts,” said Professor Ying Fuk Tsang, the director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
On 11 February 11, Cardinal Joseph Zen, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong met with Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. After that meeting, the cardinal gave an interview to CNA in which said: “More and more, the Church is under persecution [in China]. Both the official Church, and the underground. Actually, the underground is doomed to disappear. Why? Because even the Holy See is not helping. The older bishops are dying, there are fewer than 30 bishops left in the underground Church, and no new priests being ordained … But we hope that [Chinese Catholics] can keep the faith in their families — so we have to say, ‘back to the catacombs!’”
“Now, I cannot contact directly anybody in China – it’s too dangerous for them,” Zen added. “But sometimes people can come to Hong Kong, to see me and they cry, they say ‘what can we do?’ I say ‘What can I do for you? I can do nothing. I have no voice in the Vatican, simply none … The Vatican is helping the government, surrendering, giving everything into their hands.”