Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has written a letter to Pope Francis underlining the importance of maintaining peace with China and a commitment to the island’s sovereign democracy.
“The war that erupted between Russia and Ukraine last February has brought home to humanity just how valuable peace is,” Tsai wrote in a letter to the pope published by her office on Jan. 23.
“Preserving regional security has become a key consensus shared by national leaders.”
Tsai sent the letter in response to Pope Francis’ message for the 2023 World Day of Peace, the pope’s annual letter sent to all foreign governments around the world to mark the new year.
The president of Taiwan, formally called the Republic of China (ROC), cited a speech that she gave last October following a dramatic rise in tensions between Beijing and Taipei over the summer.
“In my 2022 National Day address, I underscored that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait are the basis for the development of cross-strait relations and that armed confrontation is absolutely not an option,” Tsai said.
“I made clear that only by respecting the commitment of the Taiwanese people to our sovereignty, democracy, and freedom can there be a foundation for resuming constructive interaction across the Taiwan Strait.”
Vatican City State is the only remaining country in Europe that recognizes Taiwan as a country.
Taiwan, an island less than 110 miles off the coast of China with a population of more than 23 million people, has maintained a vibrant democracy with robust civil liberties despite increased pressure from Beijing regarding the island’s status.
The Holy See has had formal diplomatic relations with the ROC since 1922, while the Church has not had an official diplomatic presence on the mainland People’s Republic of China (PRC) since it was officially expelled by Beijing in 1951.
Only 14 states worldwide still have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, among them Guatemala, Haiti, and Paraguay. The Chinese Communist Party government in mainland China views Taiwan as a rebel province and has put pressure on countries to cut diplomatic ties with the island.
Amid concern over what a Vatican decision to renew its 2018 provisional accord with Beijing would mean for the Holy See’s diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, a spokesperson for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in 2020 that it had received assurances from the Vatican regarding the renewal of the Vatican-China deal.
Tsai, the first female president of Taiwan, noted that last year marked the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Republic of China and the Holy See.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” she said.
“Taiwan aspires to serve as a light in the world and will work closely with the Holy See to create a society of greater justice and peace for humanity.”