HANGZHOU, China -- China will make no compromises in talks with the Vatican on re-establishing formal ties that were cut off more than five decades ago after the communist revolution, a top Chinese official for religious affairs said Wednesday.
Qi Xiaofei wouldn't comment on the nature of contacts between the sides, but dismissed speculation that Beijing was willing to ease some of its demands.
"There is no issue of a relaxation," said Qi, who is vice-director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
Qi said Beijing still maintains that no nation should interfere in its internal affairs, or "create two Chinas" -- a reference to Beijing's demand that the Vatican cut ties with Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims as part of its territory.
Asked whether China-Vatican ties were possible by 2008 as suggested recently by Hong Kong's newly appointed Cardinal, Joseph Zen, he said he had "no answer, no schedule."
Zen's wishes "were his own matter," Qi said.
Both Zen and the director of China's Religious Affairs Administration, Ye Xiaowen, have recently suggested that talks on ties have entered a more substantive phase.
However, strong disagreements remain over Beijing's insistence that only it be permitted to appoint bishops.
Zen is the highest ranking priest in Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 but retains its own legal and social systems, including freedom from the tight restrictions on religious observance enforced within mainland China.
Since Beijing cut formal ties with the Vatican in 1951, the Communist government has only allowed the faithful to worship in churches run by the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Millions, however, flout that requirement by belonging to groups loyal to the Vatican.
Zen said one of the Vatican's conditions for re-establishing relations was that there must be religious freedom in China. But he said the Vatican wasn't insisting on absolute religious freedom.
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