Alwaght- When American President Ronald Reagan visited Vatican for meeting Pope Juan Paul II in 1984, the two political and religious leaders found a joint reason to oppose a common enemy: communism.
The same reason seems to be used currently by the White House to establish a “sacred” alliance against China. Last Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Rome to lobby against extension of an expiring pact between Beijing and Vatican. The Trump administration, which accuses China of crackdown on religious minorities including the Muslim Uyghurs, has recently come against the renewal of a deal about appointment of catholic bishops.
Over the past decades, the church in China has been both underground, which is in full contact to Vatican, and Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). In 2018, an agreement was signed between Beijing and Vatican seeking to unite two kinds of churches in China.
The details of the deal, which will have to be renewed on October 22, have not been given publicity. However, an official from Vatican has said that the terms of the deal will be very likely resembling those of the pact with Vietnam according to which Hanoi agreed to give a list of bishops and the Pope will have the last word on their appointment.
Last week, Pompeo noted that the agreement has not helped to protect Catholics or other religious minorities against “abuses” by Communist Party of China, asking the Vatican not to renew the pact. In a Twitter message, he on September 20 said that “the Vatican will endanger its moral authority should it renew the deal” with China.
The White House and other critics argue that the pact has not done much to improve the situation of the minorities in China and only helped give a “suppressive regime” moral legitimacy and authority.
However, Pietro Parolin, a Vatican diplomat and the main architect of the deal with Beijing, said that the agreement guarantees freedom of the Christians in the Asian country.
The proponents suggest that dialogue with China over the past two years have yielded positive results, including recognition by the Chinese Communist Party the authority of the Pope and the CPCA. They also say that recognition of the church by China in the long run provides better conditions for the Catholics.
The Vatican deal sends the message that religion can exist under the authority of the Chinese state, giving an indication to other faiths that a good rapport is possible, said Father Lorenzo Prezzi, editor of a Catholic publication and an expert in the Vatican’s international relations.
Amid neighboring countries’ growing tensions with China, increasing wariness from the European Union and the Trump administration’s decision to start a new “cold war,” the agreement represents a positive result, Prezzi said. “At a time in which China sees criticisms and is estranged from other countries … the existence of a channel of communication to the Vatican, the oldest authority in the West, is good news for them.”
An estimated 1 million Uyghur Muslims have been imprisoned and reeducated, Christians have been harassed and churches have been destroyed, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2019 annual report on religious freedom. Dissenting Catholic priests have been placed under house arrest, forbidden from practicing as clergy, beaten and “disappeared.” China dismisses the reports and claims of the US and argues that they are part of a pressure campaign against Beijing.
Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a consultant to the Vatican, said the church lost credibility in the 20th century by being accommodating to dictators. Patten said he feared the Vatican was cozying up to the Chinese Communist Party “at the worst conceivable moment.”
Catholic church, the US Trojan Horse against China
With the rivalry between the US and China reaching new levels under Donald Trump, which many say is reminiscent of the Cold War period between the Western and Eastern blocs, Washington leaves no effort unmade in pressing Beijing. Meanwhile, anti-racism protests in the US have been thriving by the black Americans. But the White House closes its eyes to home protests and focuses Chinese human rights status, especially the freedom of religion.
In July, Washington sanctioned senior Chinese officials for human rights “abuses” in Xinjiang province, home of Uyghur Muslim minority. Also, at a conference, dubbed Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, in July 2019, Vice President Mike Pence accused Chinese government of cracking down on the Christians of China. He added that Christianity is growing fastest in China in the last 2000 years of the history of humanity. He said that 70 years ago when Communist Party rule started, there were only half a million Christians in China but now and after only two generations there are 130 million Christians in China.
The trip to Rome of Pompeo should be seen as a driver to maintain the pressures on China. After all, if China and Vatican manage to strike a deal to settle the problems of the Chinese Christians, the US Sinophobia campaign will go meaningless.
Drawing anti-Beijing criticism from the Vatican is important for the Americans because it reminds of the Washington-Vatican alliance the Soviet Union.
Pope Juan Paul II became famous for his helping for communism collapse in Eastern Europe, supporting the Poland protest movement against communism, and turning into spiritual leader of the anti-communism agenda. His successor Pope Benedict XVI said he was ready to talk with the Chinese leaders and called for unity in the Catholic Church.
Since his appointment as the Pope in 2013, a couple of hours before Xi Jinping was appointed president of China, he said that he was ready to continue the course of his predecessor for dialogue and agreement with Beijing. Having in mind that the pact has been under discussion for decades, Pompeo’s visit and pressure can hardly impact it, especially that the Pope refused to meet the Secretary of State under the excuse of forthcoming presidential elections in the US.