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Potential Pope, Dalai Lama meeting could harm Sino-Vatican ties

2015-01-22 08:47 Global Times Web Editor: Qian Ruisha

China on Wednesday urged the Vatican to take tangible steps to better ties, after Pope Francis sent his greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping while denying that he had turned down a meeting with the Dalai Lama.

"China is always sincere in improving ties with the Vatican and has been making efforts to this end. We are willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying at a Wednesday press briefing in response to a question about the telegram.

Religious experts believed the pontiff's greetings, a follow-up to two 2014 letters, are another encouraging sign of improving Sino-Vatican ties, but worried the possibility of a meeting with the Dalai Lama might be a setback to bilateral relations.

"I assure you of my prayers for you and the people of China, invoking abundant blessings of harmony and prosperity," read a telegram sent by the pontiff to Xi as the Pope returned to the Vatican from Manila on Monday, AFP reported.

He sent two greetings to Xi when he went to and returned from South Korea in August 2014.

Meanwhile, the Pope left the door open to a future meeting with the Dalai Lama.

"Some newspapers said that I did not meet with him out of fear of China. This is not true … A date has been fixed. But not for the moment. We are in contact," the pontiff was quoted by AFP as saying on Tuesday.

An earlier Reuters report said that the pontiff denied in December 2014 a private audience to the Dalai Lama because it could harm the Holy See's already fraught relations with China.

The Dalai Lama was in Rome at that time for a summit of Nobel Peace Prize recipients.

"His two [different] remarks in one day reflect his ambivalence [toward China] … His audience with Dalai Lama alone will definitely be seen as a step backward for bilateral relations," Xu Yihua, a professor with the Shanghai-based Fudan University, told the Global Times Wednesday.

The "stick and carrot" approach is not a proper conduct for a religious leader, Yan Kejia, director of the Institute of Religious Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times Wednesday.

"China's mild reaction leaves more leeway for the Vatican to negotiate with China in the future," Yan said.

China has on several occasions asked the Vatican to stop interfering in China's internal affairs in the name of religion, setting this as one of the conditions for the Vatican to improve relations with China.

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