Newsweek

Can China and the Catholic Church Kiss and Make Up?

The most populous communist state coming together with the largest Christian church would unite 2.6 billion people—a potentially seismic alliance.
A Chinese pilgrim waves a flag as Pope Francis arrives to lead his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's Square, at the Vatican on March 15. While the size of the Chinese religious community is difficult to measure, studies estimate there are more than 80 million Christians inside China; some studies support the possibility it could become the most Christian nation in the world in the coming years.
05_12_ChinaVatican_02 Source: Tony Gentile/Reuters

As Pope Francis entered Chinese airspace on a flight to South Korea in August 2014, he sent a note to Chinese President Xi Jinping: “I extend best wishes to your excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation.”

With that message, the pope broke 63 years of silence between the Vatican and the Chinese government, dating back to when Mao Zedong’s Communist Party expelled the last Vatican diplomat from Beijing, in 1951. And now, after more than two years of negotiations, China and the Roman Catholic Church are nearing a historic deal to re-establish ties through a unified Catholic Church in China —and possibly even a formal diplomatic relationship.

“I think it can happen anytime soon. It may be in the first half of this year if not before the end of this year,” says Victor Gao, a leading foreign policy analyst in Beijing and a former interpreter for former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. “For the Vatican, it will be a good move, because China already has many Catholics, and the potential for more

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