China's reaction to Pope's resignation reflects tensions with Vatican

BEIJING (AFP) - Beijing on Monday called for Pope Benedict XVI's successor not to interfere in China's internal affairs, highlighting enduring tensions with the Vatican after the Pontiff's surprise resignation.

Asked about the Pope's decision to step down, which stunned the world when it was announced last Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Vatican "should not interfere in China's internal affairs".

The phrase is often a reference to perceived challenges to the authority of the ruling Communist Party, and China and the Vatican have clashed over issues, including the ordination of priests and who should be the final arbiter of church affairs.

Mr Hong said he hoped the next Pope would "create conditions for the improvement of bilateral relations" with China, but indicated that Beijing would not allow a thaw in relations without concessions from the Vatican.

China does not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and only permits worship in its state-run Catholic church, which has 5.7 million members and does not recognise the ultimate authority of the Pope.

Other Chinese Catholics, estimated at between three and six million, worship in underground churches that proclaim loyalty to the Vatican above the Chinese state.

Mr Hong also called on the Vatican to break off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory.

China and the Vatican severed diplomatic ties in 1951 after the latter recognised the Nationalist Chinese government in Taipei, a rival to the communist regime in Beijing.

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