updated 6/27/2006 2:07:09 PM ET 2006-06-27T18:07:09

Two senior Vatican officials were in Beijing on Tuesday for talks on re-establishing diplomatic relations with China that were severed more than five decades ago, a Hong Kong newspaper said.

China’s Foreign Ministry would not immediately confirm the report in The South China Morning Post.

The Vatican issued a one-line statement saying it had no comment on the report, but it did not deny it.

AsiaNews, a missionary news service close to the Vatican, said Monsignor Claudio Celli, a veteran Vatican diplomat, and Monsignor Gianfranco Rota Graziosi of the Secretariat of State have been in Beijing since Sunday.

Such a visit could mean a deal for the Holy See to switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan was in sight.

The communist mainland claims Taiwan as part of its territory and refuses to have relations with any nation that recognizes the self-ruled island’s popularly elected government.

The deputy chairman of the government-backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Liu Bainian, said he couldn’t confirm whether a Vatican delegation was in Beijing.

Ties cut in 1951
Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, viewed as a key figure in Sino-Vatican relations, said he was aware of a planned visit by Vatican envoys to China.

“I don’t have any detailed information,” he said “The Vatican hasn’t told me anything. I just know people from the Vatican were planning on going to China.”

China forced Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951 after the communists took power. The government allows worship only in state-monitored churches, but millions of Catholics remain loyal to the Vatican and worship in secret.

A major stumbling block for the resumption of Sino-Vatican ties is a dispute over who has the power to appoint bishops.

The Holy See has said it wants final say on appointments but is willing to listen to China’s opinion. Beijing doesn’t appear ready to give up control of the issue.

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