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China Promises to Improve Vatican Ties

May 11, 2006 10:05 AM EDT

BEIJING (AP) - China said it was eager to improve relations with the Vatican following a feud over the consecration of Chinese bishops without papal approval, but it demanded Tuesday that the Holy See break ties with rival Taiwan.

"The Chinese side is sincere in improving relations with the Vatican side and are willing to work together with the Vatican side," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao. "We also urge the Vatican to adopt the correct way in handling the question of Taiwan."

China's Roman Catholics were forced to cut ties to the Vatican after the 1949 communist revolution.

China's ordination of two bishops last week without the approval of Pope Benedict XVI angered the Vatican, which warned that those who took part might face excommunication.

The clash set back recent efforts by Benedict to reach out to Beijing in hopes of forming official relations. Vatican officials earlier indicated they were considering cutting diplomatic ties with Taipei to pave the way for that to happen.

Liu criticized the Holy See for not informing China that it was opposed to the appointments sooner.

"Recently, we have informed the Vatican side on the decision to appoint these bishops but the Vatican side did not respond but made wanton accusations after the consecrations," he said.

Liu defended China's practice of picking its own Catholic bishops, saying the more than 170 bishops and archbishops selected that way over the past 50 years "made valuable contributions to the development of Chinese religious affairs."

There was no new reaction from the Vatican. However, the Vatican has made clear on several occasions it is ready to shift its diplomatic representation from Taiwan to Beijing.

The foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, said in March that the "time is ripe" for the Holy See and Beijing to establish diplomatic relations.

In addition, the Vatican made clear in its original reaction to the consecration of the two bishops that it wanted to continue "honest and constructive dialogue" with China "to find solutions that would satisfy the legitimate needs of both parties."

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