Taiwan’s President, Ma Ying-Jeou, traveled to the Vatican for the inaugural mass of Pope Francis, upsetting China’s government, which doesn't acknowledge the island as an independent nation, and therefore sees the participation of Taiwan's president in a ceremony attended by heads of state as an affront.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticized both Taiwan and the Vatican over the issue during a press briefing in Beijing.
“We hope that the Vatican will take concrete steps to create conditions for the improvement of China-Vatican relations and gradually remove barriers,” Hua said. She urged the Vatican to dissolve ties with Taiwan’s government and to “recognize the Chinese government as the sole legal representative of all China.”
This isn't the first time China has been angered over the relations between Taiwan and the Vatican. A rift was created in 1951, when the Holy See officially recognized Taiwan as an independent nation.
In 2005, former Taiwanese President and pro-Taiwan independence advocate, Chen Shui-bian, attended Pope John Paul II’s funeral. In protest of the recognition given to Taiwan, China refused to send representatives.
When the Vatican in 1951 recognized Taiwan for the first time as a national government, it created decades of religious-political headaches for both China and the Catholic Church. China’s practicing Catholics had to choose between attending government-sanctioned Catholic churches, where bishops weren't ordained with approval from the Pope, and “underground” churches, which were loyal to the Vatican. This divided the nation's estimated 12 million Catholics, as neither China nor the Vatican wavered on their Taiwan stance.
President Ma’s three-day trip to the Vatican is important for Taiwan and its 23 million people, 300,000 of whom are Catholic. It will be a rare opportunity for the Catholic-raised Ma to interact with other world leaders, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and German chancellor Angela Merkel, because for now, the Vatican is the only state in Europe that recognizes the Taipei government. Taiwan has full diplomatic relations with only 23 nations, most of which are in Latin America and Africa.
With the selection of the new pope, some Chinese were hoping this was the opportunity to renew ties with China, and reunite China’s Catholic churches under the Vatican; however, the invitation extended by the Vatican to Taiwan for the Pope’s inaugural mass seemed to have hurt these chances.