China is keen to develop its relationship with the Vatican and appreciates the goodwill shown by Pope Francis, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.
On a flight from Tokyo to Rome on Tuesday, the pontiff said that he “loves China” and “would like to go to Beijing”.
Beijing responded on Thursday, with foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang saying it was keen to have a good relationship with the Vatican.
“We appreciate the goodwill and friendship expressed by the Pope,” he said. “We have maintained good communications with the Vatican and are pleased about the improvement and progress of Sino-Vatican relations.
“China is sincere and active in promoting Sino-Vatican relations, and is open to and welcomes the development of relations.”
During his flight, Pope Francis also mentioned Hong Kong but avoided taking sides on the long-running protests in the city.
“It’s not only Hong Kong, there are various problematic situations that I am unable to evaluate at the moment. I respect peace and I ask for peace for all these countries that have problems, Spain too,” he said.
“It is better to put things in perspective and to call for dialogue, for peace, so that problems can be resolved. And finally, I would like to go to Beijing, I love China.”
The Pope was flying back to the Vatican after a week-long Asian tour that began in Bangkok on November 19. Thousands of Chinese Catholics flew to the Thai capital to take part in the celebrations for the visit of the spiritual leader.
Beijing has a strained relationship with the Vatican as the city state is Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in Europe. Beijing broke off diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1951.
As China’s global influence has grown, many of Taipei’s diplomatic allies have switched allegiance to Beijing, with the most recent being the Pacific island nations of the Solomon Islands and Kiribati.
The self-ruled island now has just 15 diplomatic allies and is becoming increasingly isolated on the world stage.
Pope Francis has sought to improve ties with Beijing in recent years, but the two sides have clashed over whether the Vatican or the Chinese government should have the right to appoint bishops.
A landmark agreement reached in September last year states that the pontiff has the ultimate say, but that candidates will be selected from a pool vetted by Beijing.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Pope Francis avoids offence in greetings to Hong Kong, Beijing and Taipei
- Pope Francis heads to Thailand for Catholic masses and meeting with King Maha Vajiralongkorn
- China’s religion chiefs to double down on bringing doctrine in line with socialist dogma
This article China open to closer relationship with Vatican, Beijing says after Pope Francis’ words of peace first appeared on South China Morning Post