Despite good intentions from both China and the Vatican, who show a "sincere desire" to improve relations, the latter have always seemed to be "sensitive”, this according to an article published by Églises d'Asie, titled ‘Did President Xi Jinping really send a gift to Pope Francis?’
The question stems from the answer the pontiff gave a journalist on
Vatican relations with China on the plane that brought him back to Rome
from Baku on 2 October.
“We have good relations,” the pope said on that occasion, “we study
and we talk, there are working commissions… I am optimistic. Now I
believe that the Vatican Museum has organized an exhibit in China, the
Chinese will do another at the Vatican…
“There are many professors who go to teach in Chinese universities,
many nuns, many priests who can work well there. The relations between
the Vatican and the Chinese… We have to establish a relationship, and
for this we are having discussions, slowly…
“Slow things go well, always. Things done in a hurry do not go well. I
have great esteem for the Chinese people. The day before yesterday, for
example, there was a two-day conference, I believe, at the [Pontifical]
Academy of Sciences on Laudato Si’, and there was a Chinese
delegation representing the President. And the President of China sent
me a gift. There are good relations.”
The international conference, the new agency was referring to took
place on 28 September under the auspices of the Pontifical Academy of
Social Sciences, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for
Justice and Peace. One of the organisations invited was a Chinese
foundation active in environmental protection, the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (中国 生物 多样性 保护 与 绿色 发展 基金会).
The person who represented the foundation at the symposium brought a
gift for the pope, a reproduction of the Nestorian Stele or Stele of
Daqin, which testifies to the recognition of the presence of the
Nestorian Church in China in the 7th century by Emperor Tang Taizong."
The Foundation appears to have very good "connections". Founded by
Zhengcao Lu, one of the first generals in the People's Liberation Army,
it is now run by an archaeologist, Hu Deping. The latter “is the eldest
son of Hu Yaobang (1915-1989), secretary general of the Chinese
Communist Party from 1982 to 1987 who was ousted by Deng Xiaoping for
being too close to the student protesters demanding more democracy.
"Hu Yaobang died in April of 1989, three weeks before the crackdown
against the Beijing Spring, in Tiananmen Square. According to the
Japanese press, the father of the current president Xi Jinping, Xi
Zhongxun, and Hu Deping’s father were close friends. Such friendship
appears to involve their offsprings as well, which is why Xi Jinping,
despite his authoritarianism since taking office, allowed the
publication of the complete works of Hu Yaobang last year, which bear
the mark of a form of liberalism no longer in vogue."
"Neither the Holy See nor China issued any comment after the press
reported President Xi Jinping’s ‘gift’ to Pope Francis. China’s official
press, whether the Global Times or the People's Daily, have not uttered a word on the matter. The Holy See Press Office assured Églises d'Asie that it had no information either.
"Can we thus believe that President Xi Jinping sent a gift to the
pope via the Chinese foundation? According to some observers, the idea
would have had some credibility had Hu Deping himself gone to Rome and
handed the stele to the pope in person. Without Hu Deping, it seems
unthinkable, if for no other reason than protocol, that the Chinese
president would have openly sent a gift to the pope via indirect
As for what the pope said on the plane from Baku about an exhibit by
the Vatican Museums in China, "we have found no traces of it, except for
an exhibition that took place from 5 February to 2 May entitled The Altar, Catholicism Spreads East, The Holy See, The Liturgical Year, The Pope and History, and The Sacraments. It was indeed organised by the Vatican, however, it was not held in mainland China, but in Taipei, Republic of China, i.e. Taiwan”.