Vatican and Vietnam edge closer to restoring diplomatic ties

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (above) met Pope Francis in Rome on Saturday with both saying they were committed to restoring diplomatic relations. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (above) met Pope Francis in Rome on Saturday with both saying they were committed to restoring diplomatic relations. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met Pope Francis in Rome on Saturday with both saying they were committed to restoring diplomatic relations.

The country's communist regime broke off diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1975, but both sides have been working on warming relations since 2007.

The meeting marked "an important step in the process of reinforcing relations between the Holy See and Vietnam", a Vatican statement said after the meeting.

The Vatican said it welcomed the support of the Vietnamese authorities for the Catholic community, which makes up around seven per cent of the country's population of 89 million.

During his five-day visit to South Korea in August - his first trip to Asia - the Pope called for communist countries Vietnam and China, which do not have formal ties with the Vatican, to accept a "dialogue" with Rome, insisting that Catholics did not view Asia with the mentality of "conquerors".

The Vatican had earlier hailed the "positive developments" from talks between the two sides held in Hanoi on Sept 10 and 11.

The papal nuncio in Singapore, Leopoldo Girelli, has been the Vatican's "non-resident pontifical representative" to Hanoi since 2011.

The Pope is keen for the Church to tap into Asia, a continent where the number of Catholics, currently just 3.2 per cent of the population, is rocketing.