Vatican is “badly wrong about China”

The Vatican has “got it badly wrong about China” in its efforts at rapprochement with the administration of Xi Jingping, says Hong Kong’s last governor, Baron Patten of Barnes.

“It is very sad, but under Xi Jingping things have gone backwards in China,” he said.

For the Vatican to try and drive for a normalisation of its relationship with China at this time was “bizarre”, he added.

The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, who met Archbishop Paul Gallagher on 14 February to discuss developments since the 2018 Sino-Vatican agreement on appointing bishops in China, shares the same name as a well-known Christian pastor, Patten says.

The pastor was sentenced to nine years imprisonment in December for subversion of state power after criticising Xi Jingping’s authoritarian policies.

“The man who they have made head of the Hong Kong-Macau office in charge of dealing with Hong Kong cut his teeth tearing down Christian symbols in the province he was previously running,” Patten said.

Xia Baolong is a close ally of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and was his deputy in Zhejiang province, which is one of China’s more Christian regions.

Over 1,200 crosses were removed and scores of churches were torn down between 2013 and 2017 when Xia was Communist Party secretary of the province.

“How can you have a rapprochement on religious issues with China when there are a million or more Uighur Muslims locked up in Xinjiang,” Patten said.

Patten said he finds himself “sympathising hugely with Cardinal Zen on this”.

While he says he admires “those in Rome who have been trying for decades to improve relations between the Vatican and China,” he thinks “this was an extraordinary time to be doing this with an administration in China which has gone backwards on human rights.”

He emphasised that it is important that China should play a leading and constructive role in the global community.

At the same, time, he noted: “We should not have an argument with China, but with the intentions and behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party.”

The most serious and sustained attacks on the values of liberal democracy come from the Chinese Communist Party, he said.

These attacks are “given heft” by Chinese economic success and calculated debt diplomacy.

In Patten’s opinion, persuading Western countries that access to China’s market depends on toeing China’s political lines is “wolf diplomacy”.

One reason for the Chinese Community party’s hard line in Hong Kong is that the city represents many of the aspects of liberal democracy which the Party hates, he explained.

“That is one reason why the future of the city matters so much; a city that can remember, that knows what happened in the past,” he stated.


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