London, England, February 7, 2022 / 4:40 a.m. (CNA).
A British human rights campaigner said on Sunday it would be “completely unacceptable” for the Vatican to establish formal diplomatic relations with China.
Benedict Rogers suggested on February 6 that the Vatican may be preparing to take the plunge after moving officials from posts in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
He pointed to the Vatican’s decision to transfer a representative to Taiwan in Africa, leaving its apostolic nunciature in the country without high-level diplomatic representation.
The Vatican announced Jan. 31 that Msgr. Arnaldo Catalan, charge d’affaires since 2019, would leave the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, for Rwanda, where he will serve as apostolic nuncio.
On February 5, Pope Francis appointed Msgr. Javier Herrera Corona, Head of the Holy See Study Mission in Hong Kong since January 2020, as the new Apostolic Nuncio to the Republic of Congo and Gabon.
Writing on his Twitter account, Rogers asked if the Vatican was “on the verge of establishing diplomatic relations” with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has ruled China since 1949.
“It would be totally unacceptable and outrageous if that were the case,” he said. noted. “Catholics must speak with one voice in the world to stop this.”
He called on Pope Francis to replace officials in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and “to reassure us that the Vatican will maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan and not establish relations with [the] CCP.
The communist People’s Republic of China severed relations with the Holy See in 1951. But in 2018, the Vatican and Beijing signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of Catholic bishops.
Ahead of the agreement’s renewal in 2020, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the pact was “just a starting point” for better relations between the two states.
He acknowledged that China’s more than 10 million Catholics face “many other problems” and that “the road to full normalization will still be long.”
The Vatican officially established diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1942. Today, it is one of the few states that continues to maintain full diplomatic relations with the country officially known as the Republic of China.
The CCP views Taiwan as a rebellious province and has always pressured countries to sever diplomatic ties with the island.
Parolin told reporters in October 2020 that “at the moment there is no question of diplomatic relations” with China. The comments were welcomed by the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry.
Rogers is the founder of Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based organization that monitors human rights, freedoms and the rule of law in the southern Chinese coastal city, home to around 389,000 Catholics. .
The charity, founded in 2017, takes up much of his time, but he also works as a senior East Asia analyst for human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Rogers told CNA in a Feb. 4 phone interview that pro-Beijing media had recently singled out the Hong Kong Catholic Church for criticism.
He said the state-run Ta Kung Pao newspaper had published four critical articles in quick succession, including “a specific attack” on 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, the 90-year-old bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.
“What is concerning about these articles is that usually when Beijing intends to implement a new campaign or initiative against a particular group, very often the first step they take is track it in the pro-Beijing media,” said Rogers, who converted to Catholicism in 2013.
He explained that the articles came amid growing threats to religious freedom in Hong Kong following the 2019-2020 pro-democracy protests and the passing of the controversial National Security Law in June 2020.
He cited advice to priests issued by Cardinal John Tong Hon, then apostolic administrator of the diocese of Hong Kong, following the law, warning clergy of the need to “watch our language” in homilies.
“It shouldn’t surprise us that religious freedom is under threat for two reasons,” Rogers said. “First, when freedom itself is dismantled, religious freedom will sooner or later be affected, and Hong Kong’s freedoms have been dismantled in recent years.”
“Religion and the Church, in particular, is one of the last remaining potential targets which, so far, has been less impacted than others. We’ve seen the dismantling of press freedom, the jailing of pro-democracy legislators, the impact on academic freedom, and so, in a sense, religious freedom is the obvious next target.
“The second point is that the Beijing regime has always had a hostility towards religion, and as it increasingly regains direct control of Hong Kong, religion is more likely to be in its sights.”
Rogers was refused entry to Hong Kong in October 2017 and believes he is likely banned from the city for life.
He could also be permanently banned from mainland China because an organization he co-founded, the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission, was among the British entities hit by Chinese sanctions in March 2021.
He encouraged Christians around the world to alert their local political representatives to threats to religious freedom in Hong Kong. He said it was important “to send a message to Beijing” that his moves would not go unnoticed.
Rogers added that he would encourage people not to watch the Winter Olympics, which are currently taking place in Beijing. Human rights activists dubbed the event “the genocide games”, pointing to the Chinese government’s crackdown on the Uyghur minority in the northwest territory of Xinjiang.
“Before the Games, I had encouraged people to consider a consumer boycott of Games sponsors,” he said.
“Obviously the Games are now on, so it’s a bit more difficult, but not watching them would definitely be something I would encourage.”
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