Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lin has just returned to Taipei after attending the beatification of Pope Paul VI on October 19. The Holy See is the last state in Europe to maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and one of only 22 worldwide.
Taiwan is seeking to become a more important player to the Vatican by offering greater cooperation in expanding the Church Catholic in China, especially now as relations between China and Taiwan have cooled.
To that end, the Taiwanese government is beefing up its naval defense capability, and is moving forward with plans to build its own submarines, as China is also investing heavily in its own navy. Despite almost certain objections from Beijing, the nation is determined to continue with the project, and therefore its relations with other friendly states such as the Vatican are more important than ever.
In addition to working on its relationship with the Vatican, Taiwan has appealed to the United States for help acquiring design consulting and sub-systems in its efforts to build up a deterrent force against possible Chinese aggression.
China still regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has shown it is willing to use force when necessary to bring the former island of Formosa to heel. According to a recent Taiwanese government report, China will be equipped for a successful invasion of Taiwan by 2020.
The Vatican maintains no official representation in China since 1950, but has a chargé d’affaires in Taiwan, Monsignor Paul Fitzpatrick Russell, who last week described relations between Taipei and the Vatican as “excellent.”
Lin returned to the island on Saturday and on arriving stressed that Taiwan provides an ideal environment for Chinese Catholics to prepare theologically, allowing them to contribute more to the development of the Catholic Church on their return to China.
The Saint Robert Bellarmine Theology School of Fu Jen Catholic University in New Taipei has received 146 Chinese students since 2010, and of these 51 have since returned to China, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For decades, the Holy See has wished to better protect the estimated 13 million Roman Catholics in China, whom Beijing seeks to control through its Patriotic Church. Beijing has placed bishops under house arrest, demolished churches and ordained bishops without Rome’s consent.
Shortly before the appointment of Pope Francis, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hong Lei, said that “China is willing to develop relations with the Vatican if the Vatican breaks diplomatic ties with Taiwan and stops interfering in the internal affairs of China, especially interference in the name of religion,” in reference to the appointment of bishops.
The Taiwanese government meanwhile has invited Pope Francis to Taiwan, and, according to David Lin, “the Holy See is keeping an open attitude about it.”