Tuesday, August 10, 1999 Published at 06:47 GMT 07:47 UK
China 'blocks Pope visit'
The Vatican's links with Taiwan is said to be behind the move
China has reportedly blocked plans by the Pope to visit Hong Kong, with the Vatican's links with Taiwan said to be behind the decision.
A BBC correspondent in Hong Kong says the move has infuriated pro-democracy politicians, who claim Beijing's decision will undermine international confidence in Hong Kong and erode the autonomy of the territory.
The agency says it was told that since the Vatican maintains diplomatic ties with Taiwan it would not be appropriate for the Pope to visit Hong Kong.
Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has vowed to intervene militarily if it declares formal independence.
The decision puts strain on the 'one-country-two-systems' policy under which Hong Kong was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997.
The BBC's correspondent says there are at least 250,000 Chinese Catholics in Hong Kong, along with 120,000 Filipino Catholics.
The Vatican has had no ties with Beijing since the Communists came to power in 1949, but Pope John Paul said after last year's synod of Asian bishops that he would like to visit Hong Kong. It would have been the first visit by a Pope since a three-hour stopover by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
Tensions between Beijing and Taiwan heightened dramatically over the past month. China was infuriated when Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui said on 9 July that Taipei-Beijing ties must be on a "special state-to-state" basis.
Beijing, which has sought to isolate Taiwan internationally, has interpreted Lee's comments as moving closer to a declaration of independence, a step China says would lead to a military confrontation.
'Willing to rethink'
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said that banning the visit by the Pope raised concerns China would reverse its pledge to give Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.
"Disquiet has been growing among Hong Kong Catholics about what they feel is increasing religious repression on the mainland," the newspaper said.
A Vatican official said in March that the papal state was willing to rethink its relations with Taiwan to forge ties with Beijing, but China insists the Vatican must cut ties with Taiwan before any talks begin.
It says the Vatican must also agree not to interfere with China's internal affairs, which would mean foregoing the right to appoint bishops should diplomatic relations be established.