By Daniel Griffiths
BBC News, Beijing
A senior official from China's state-run Catholic Church has welcomed a letter from Pope Benedict to the authorities in Beijing.
China's state-run Catholic Church has four million followers
The Pope called on China to respect religious freedoms but also said the Vatican was open to negotiations over resuming diplomatic relations.
China and the Vatican severed ties in the 1950s.
But the official Chinese response to the letter, which was published at the weekend, has not been so positive.
Beijing said it is willing to continue a dialogue with the Vatican, but a government spokesman said the Pope must not interfere in China's affairs in the name of religion.
The deputy head of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, Liu Bainian, told the BBC he hoped the letter would help improve ties between the two.
The letter is the latest twist in a saga that stretches back more than a half a century - to when the two sides broke off diplomatic relations after the Communists came to power.
The Vatican wants to resume those ties, but there are big differences:
China has organised its own Catholic Church, which it says has the right to appoint bishops - something the Vatican has always disputed.
China also insists that the Vatican cut its links with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.
The state-run Chinese Catholic Church has four million followers. But it is thought that millions more belong to underground organisations loyal to the Vatican.
The Pope's letter may provide hope for some of them, but the reality is that any breakthrough is still a long way off.