(From Reuters)

China said on Wednesday it had “noted” an interview in Asia Times in which Pope Francis sent Lunar New Year greetings to President Xi Jinping, and called on the Vatican to be flexible in creating conditions for better relations.

People wave Chinese flags and Vatican flags as Pope Francis waves to the crowd in a street in Italy’s ‘Chinatown’ Prato in this file photo

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 ties 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 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 has made many efforts in this regard,” Lu told a daily news briefing.

“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.”

Lu did not elaborate.

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