Cross-strait trade is down almost 10 percent, and tensions are way up between mainland China and Taiwan. Despite its functional independence, Taiwan is still regarded in Beijing as a renegade province, and relations between China’s President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s first woman leader, President Tsai Ing-wen, have been especially frosty since her election in May. Beijing complains that she failed to acknowledge explicitly the “1992 consensus” reached between the Chinese Communist Party and Taiwan’s Kuomintang.
That vague agreement attests that there is indeed only one China, leaving it to either side to frame the meaning of that acknowledgment. The trouble is that Ms. Tsai and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party are growing less willing to pretend they believe in the consensus. It remains hard to imagine this long-simmering tension boiling over into open conflict, but it has happened before. In an effort to punish Ms. Tsai, Beijing has discouraged tourism to Taiwan, cut off official contacts and is reported to be pressing international organizations and individual countries to further shun the already diplomatically isolated self-governing island.
Among the international players feeling that pressure may be the Holy See. The Vatican is Taiwan’s last embassy in Europe. Were the Holy See to seize an opportunity to improve its standing with Beijing by abandoning Taiwan, the impact would be devastating in Taipei. A better time—and a better deal—for normalizing the church’s status on the mainland may be forthcoming. But at this especially tense moment, Taiwan should not be sacrificed in order to accelerate improved China-Vatican relations, however worthy that goal may be.