Hours after Sao Tome and Principe severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan on Dec. 21, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Javier Hou (侯清山) addressed lawmakers’ concerns of further defections to Beijing. Speaking to the Foreign and National Defense Committee, Hou admitted that officials were on alert with regard to an unspecified ally.
Since June, when two senior Vatican officials visited Beijing, ostensibly to discuss re-establishing ties that were ruptured half a century ago, rumors of a potential rift with the Holy See have been rife. These fears were compounded by a Chinese-language report on Radio France Internationale’s Web site, claiming a deal on the appointment of bishops was in the offing.
The piece was dismissed as “reheated leftovers” by Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lee (李大維). However, while the Vatican stopped short of endorsing the state-sanctioned Ninth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives held in Beijing from Dec. 28 to Dec. 30, it broke with its custom of forbidding attendance. Still, as shaky as the relationship seems, it is unlikely to collapse overnight. It is more likely, as has been observed by analysts such as Alan Romberg, East Asia program director at the Washington-based think tank Stimson Center, that any accommodation between this odd couple will emerge in phases. This would give Taiwan a grace period to brace for the blow.
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