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Tuesday, 20 June, 2000, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
China sets conditions for papal visit
Priests attend a ceremony
The official church does not recognise Papal authority
China says it will accept a visit from the Pope, as long as key issues on the status of Taiwan and diplomatic relations are resolved first.

In an interview with the Italian news agency Ansa, Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji said the Vatican must ensure it breaks all ties with Taiwan and refrain from interfering in China's internal affairs before any visit can take place.

Zhu Rongji
Mr Zhu says the Vatican must stay out of China's internal affairs
"Religious freedom is accepted by the state, which governs such matters, but it cannot be used to intervene in Chinese internal affairs." Mr Zhu is quoted as saying.

"We are discussing these points of principle," he said. "Once we have resolved these problems, the Pope will come."

The announcement comes just days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was reported to have offered an invitation for a papal visit to Pyongyang.

It also comes shortly before the Chinese premier begins a tour of Europe, during which he is expected to have an audience with the Pope in Rome.

Underground church

Some four million Chinese are members of the official Chinese Catholic Church which boasts 70 bishops and does not recognise papal authority.

The Pope
The Pope has expressed a wish to go to China
But the Vatican says about eight million belong to the underground Catholic Church, which remains loyal to the Pope.

The Pope has made it clear that he wants to visit China but a papal visit is only possible to a country that has diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

At present the Holy See has had no diplomatic relations with China since it closed its Beijing embassy - known as a nunciature - in 1951.

Vietnamese model

For its part the Vatican is pressing Beijing to allow the Pope a say in the appointment of bishops.

Some reports suggest the Vatican may be trying to agree a similar model to that practised in Vietnam where the Vatican recognises the communist authorities in return for a papal say in the appointment of bishops.

In early January China's state-approved church appointed five new bishops at a ceremony in Beijing - a move seen by many as a snub to the Pope's authority.

The Pope's status as head of the Roman Catholic church is traditionally based on his sole right to make such appointments.

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See also:

04 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese church 'snubs' Pope
10 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
China 'blocks Pope visit'
06 Nov 99 | South Asia
Pope urges spread of Catholicism
06 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
China defies Pope
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