Should the Vatican trust China?

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Should the Vatican trust China?

An American firm that tracks state-backed cyber attacks has found evidence that the Chinese government used hackers to infiltrate the computer networks of the Vatican. The hacking is thought to relate to upcoming negotiation talks between the Vatican and China. Should the Vatican trust China? And what is the best way to attain a good relationship between the two countries?

The hackers’ attack
The American firm announced on 29 July that they found evidence that the Chinese government used hackers to infiltrate the computer networks of the Vatican. The attacks are said to have begun in May. It is suggested the attack was intended to give China insights into the negotiation position of the Vatican ahead of important talks between the Vatican and China over the appointment of new bishops in China. The negotiations were meant to restore diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican and the content is kept very secret.[1] [2] [3] However, China has negated the attack.

Does the Vatican trust China?
The fact that the Vatican does not trust China is evident. In 2019, the Vatican moved its secret archive – placed in Hong Kong (China) – to Rome (Italy). This was due to the Vatican’s suspicion and fear that the documents would be seized or destroyed by the Chinese government and intelligence. After the attacks in May, the suspicion indeed proved justified.[4]

China and religious communities
Another reason not to trust China is that in July, Chinese officials reportedly instructed Christians in several regions to destroy crosses and other religious paraphernalia and replace them with communist party symbols. In addition to cracking down on Christian groups and churches, party officials have also barred Tibetan children from undertaking Buddhist studies, and have imprisoned Muslim ethnic minorities – the Uyghurs – in “re-education camps.” [5] [6]

Does the Vatican fear China?
In the meantime, the pope seems to avoid provoking China. In July, Pope Francis avoided reading part of a speech about the situation in Hong Kong where the Beijing regime is crushing freedom and autonomy of the people of Hong Kong. The pope knew that talking about Hong Kong would mean breaking relations with China, which is why, some argue, the pope chose not to express himself.  [7] [8]

Criticising the Vatican
Some are criticising the pope and the Vatican for not intervening in defense of Christians and other minorities that are persecuted by the communist regime. For instance, the former British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, directly criticised Pope Francis for staying silent and not commenting on the illegitimate expansionism in China and for not speaking out against the persecutions of Christians, Muslims, and even citizens who oppose the Chinese regime and believe in democracy. Furthermore, the pope did not speak out against a new law that could damage the Catholic education programme and impose a communist one.[9]

US President Donald Trump’s administration and American conservatives also criticise the pope’s openness towards China. They argue that the talks between China and the Vatican legitimise China’s behavior and demonstrate that the Vatican geopolitics is focused too much eastward.[10]

The pragmatic question
The Vatican seems to be torn by the desire for peace and tolerance and the direct and indirect attacks it receives from China. It is not easy to understand whether the pope and the Vatican are weak or rather pragmatic towards China. Is it better to pardon China some of its attacks in order to achieve diplomatic goals, or should the pope intervene more in favour of the people of China that are suffering?

Ghila Amati

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[1] Hacker cinesi contro il Vaticano
[2] Papa Francesco, Socci e l’auto-censura in Vaticano: il passaggio sparito su Cina e Hong Kong nell’Angelus
[3] U.S. cybersecurity firm says Beijing-linked hackers target Vatican ahead of talks
[4] Hacker cinesi, il «presentimento» del Vaticano: trasferito a Roma l’archivio segreto che era ad Hong Kong
[5] China ‘orders Christians to destroy crosses on their churches and take down images of Jesus in intensifying crackdown on religion’
[6] China tightens regulations that forces religious groups to conform to Communist Party principles
[7] Il mistero sulla frase del Papa cancellata all’ultimo momento
[8] Papa Francesco, Socci e l’auto-censura in Vaticano:  
[9] Il Vaticano non taccia su Hong Kong
[10] Hacker cinesi contro il Vaticano