Beijing's overture to Pope likely to signal thaw in diplomatic relations
The Chinese government yesterday issued a statement saying that it had "noted" an interview in which Pope Francis sent Lunar New Year greetings to President Xi Jinping.
Beijing also called on the Vatican to be flexible in creating conditions for better relations. It is thought that the diplomatic overture may be the precursor to a thaw in relations.
The Vatican, which has had no formal diplomatic ties with Beijing since shortly after the Communist Party took power in 1949, has been trying to improve its relationship with China and its state-sanctioned Catholic Church.
The main point of contention between Beijing and the Vatican is which side should have the final say in the appointment of bishops. Another stumbling block is the Holy See's recognition of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.
While he was in South Korea in 2014, the Pope urged China to pursue a formal dialogue to benefit both sides. While flying to South Korea, his plane was allowed to cross Chinese air space, a first for a pope.
In the interview in the 'Asia Times' this week, the Pope did not mention difficult subjects like human rights, expressing his admiration for China and sending his best wishes to Mr Xi and China's people ahead of next week's Lunar New Year holiday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he had "noted the relevant report".
"China has always been sincere about improving Sino-Vatican ties, and have made many efforts in this regard," Mr Lu said.
"We are still willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican based on this principle, meeting each other half way, and keep pushing forward the development of the process of improving bilateral relations. We also hope that the Vatican can take a flexible, pragmatic attitude to creating conditions for improving ties."
Mr Lu did not elaborate.