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Taiwan cardinal eyes China-Vatican dialogue

Taiwan, China set for historic trade meeting
Taipei (AFP) Feb 20, 2011 - Deputy trade ministers from Taiwan and China will meet on the island this week in what is being hailed as a significant step forward in the normalisation of ties between the former rivals. "It is the first time in more than 60 years that representatives from the two sides will meet on a platform jointly endorsed by their governments," said Timothy Huang, a spokesman for the Straits Exchange Foundation. The foundation is a quasi-official body authorised by the Taiwanese government to handle civil contacts with the mainland. "The meeting is of special significance," Huang told AFP.

Taipei and Beijing launched a new body, the Economic Cooperation Committee, last month to deal with economic issues arising from a sweeping trade pact forged last year. China's deputy commerce minister Jiang Zengwei and his Taiwanese counterpart Liang Kuo-hsin will hold the committee's first meeting in the northern Taoyuan city on Tuesday. The committee will meet every six months. The delegates will discuss proposals for exchanging liaison offices for various civil, economic and trade groups. "Such representative offices will be helpful in the further strengthening of economic and trade ties between the two sides," Huang said. Although Taiwan and China have been governed separately for more than six decades, Beijing considers the island part of its territory to be reunified by force if necessary.
by Staff Writers
Kaohsiung, Taiwan (AFP) Feb 20, 2011
Taiwan's Cardinal Paul Shan, who will embark on a high-profile trip to China this summer, says he hopes that the Vatican and Beijing can be "mature" and reconcile their bitter differences.

Shan, 89, a highly revered religious leader on the island, made the remarks after he unveiled plans for the voyage, hailed as a first contact between Catholics on both sides of the Taiwan Strait in more than 60 years.

"It takes time for China and the Vatican to reconcile. The government has its jurisdiction and the Church has its jurisdiction, and they should respect each other," Shan told AFP in an interview.

"The two sides should be in contact and exchange (views) and let the other side know its jurisdiction so they can eventually reconcile," he said, sitting in his residence in the south Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung.

The Vatican and China have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1951, when the Holy See's recognition of Taiwan sparked anger in Beijing, which claims the island as its own.

The state-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association does not acknowledge the authority of Pope Benedict XVI and is fiercely opposed to the "clandestine" clergy loyal to the pontiff.

However, there are about a dozen clergymen who have been recognised by both the Vatican and the Chinese authorities in recent years, which could become a model for future ties, said Shan, who was born on the mainland.

"Catholicism is different from other religions and there is one Catholic (authority) in the world. The pope appointing clergymen is a fundamental part of the Catholic faith and China should respect core Catholic values," he said.

"Catholics are not willing to accept clergymen who are not recognised by the pope and it's better for the two sides to work out their issues through dialogues."

Demonstrating fragile relations, a war of words erupted between Beijing and the Vatican in December, with China rebuffing criticism by the pope of its curbs on practising Catholics and of the state-sanctioned Chinese church.

China has about five million Catholics who worship at Communist Party-sanctioned "official" churches, while up to 11 million reportedly worship at "underground" churches.

Shan, appointed by the late Pope John Paul II as a cardinal in 1998, was born in central China and relocated to Taiwan after the nationalist Kuomintang party was defeated by the communists in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

He said the rapprochement between former arch-rivals Taiwan and China in recent years serves as an example that dialogue and contact are the way to go.

"Painful lessons from the history show that violence and war cannot solve problems and everyone should mature to conduct negotiations," he said.

Shan first returned to China in 1979 from the Philippines to visit his relatives in a trip that was kept private due to tensions between Taiwan and China at the time. He has not set foot on the mainland since.

He has remained active in public despite his retirement from official duties in 2006, the year he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

He launched a "goodbye tour" across Taiwan the following year to share his fight against cancer and to call for the public to treasure their lives -- the same message he intends to take to China.

In June, he is scheduled to travel to Shanghai and Zhengzhou city, near his native town, in a week-long journey.

Shan is expected to hold a joint mass with Shanghai Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, according to Chou Chin-huar, head of Taipei-based cancer charity the Chou Ta-Kuan Foundation, which organised his trip.

However, Shan said he is not planning to meet members of China's "underground" Catholic churches because he does not wish to "create troubles for them".

Shan has also been promoting environmental protection and disaster prevention, an area he discussed with the Dalai Lama during the Tibetan spiritual leader's visit to Taiwan in 2009 after a deadly typhoon.

"The Dalai Lama is a down-to-earth person and he came to comfort victims of the typhoon as a religious figure, there was no reason for me to refuse him a meeting," Shan said. Beijing brands the Dalai Lama a dangerous "splittist".

Chou, of the cancer foundation, admitted that meeting had "increased difficulties" in arranging the cardinal's China visit and that Beijing itself will not be a stop due to "political sensitivity".

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