By Jerome A. Cohen
The Vatican is reportedly discussing an agreement with China on the status of China's Catholic Church and appointment of bishops. If an agreement is concluded, would that indicate the Vatican’s severance of its diplomatic ties with Taiwan?
Every one of Taiwan’s remaining formal diplomatic relationships has its distinctive features, but the Vatican’s is the most special, of course. I assume that ROC diplomats are working hard to separate a Vatican-PRC agreement on “only religion” from other matters.
The ROC on Taiwan, of course, has a huge amount of experience on how a government, by necessity, often has to make agreements on “cultural and economic” matters with governments with which it does not maintain formal diplomatic relations, and how such agreements can often be used as a cover for political, legal and other contacts as well. We should not forget that the PRC, for the first three decades of its existence until “normalization” of its relations with the U.S. in 1979 and especially in the ‘70s, broadened and strengthened its relations with some other governments despite the absence of formal diplomatic relations. Perhaps the Vatican’s second step beyond the current one will be to establish a special type of “liaison office” (lianluo chu) in Beijing, adopting a religious variation of the American office established in Beijing in 1973, six years before “normalization”! International law is rich in flexible examples, and the Vatican has made many unusual arrangements with various states.
I got a kick out of the ROC representative in Rome’s saying that it maintains a “smooth flow of information” with the Vatican. Was this supposed to be illustrated by the Vatican representative in Taiwan’s refusal to comment when asked questions by the local media?