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China Conditionally Welcomes Vatican's Offer - 2001-10-25

China's government says it is "very positive" about improving relations with the Vatican, but Beijing insists that the Catholic Church must first meet some conditions. The apparent warming of long-strained relations follows Wednesday's apology by the Pope for the conduct of Christian missionaries in China in past centuries.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi says the government is carefully studying the apology from Pope John Paul II.

Mr. Sun says the Vatican must not interfere in China's internal affairs under the pretext of religious matters, and must cut ties to Taiwan.

Wednesday, Pope John Paul called for restoring diplomatic ties between the Vatican and China and expressed "deep sadness" because some missionaries did not act in the best interests of Chinese people in the past.

The Pope said in these times of "profound disquiet" there is a need for creating ties and understanding. He said restoring diplomatic relations would have "positive repercussions for humanity's progress."

China cut diplomatic ties with the Vatican and expelled foreign missionaries in the 1950's as the Communist Party consolidated its grip on power after winning the civil war in 1949.

Relations between the Pope and Beijing hit a low point a year ago when the Vatican made dozens of Chinese Roman Catholics and some European missionaries saints. China's government reacted with fury, saying some were terrible sinners who had committed "unforgivable crimes" against the Chinese people.

About 4 million Chinese are members of the Patriotic Catholic Church run with the approval of the government in Beijing. The government does not allow church members to recognize the Pope in Rome as the faith's leader.

An estimated 5 to 8 million other Chinese Catholics continue to follow the Pope, and often worship in secret. Catholic clergy have been jailed, in some cases for decades, for their refusal to comply with Beijing's dictates.

Officials from Taiwan are urging the Vatican not to cut ties to the island, reportedly telling the Vatican that China is a dictatorship that has no respect for religious freedom. Beijing and Taiwan split politically in 1949, and China has tried to isolate the island diplomatically ever since. Only a few nations, including the Vatican, currently recognize Taiwan.