A framework accord between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops is ready and could be signed in a few months in what would be an historic breakthrough in relations, a senior Vatican source said last week.
An even partial resolution of the thorny issue of who gets to appoint bishops could open the way for a resumption of diplomatic relations nearly 70 years after they were cut during the Communist takeover of China.
China has so far said little about the talks.
However, the widely read tabloid the Global Times said a deal between Beijing and the Vatican would be "tremendously beneficial to Catholics".
"Despite the difficult process, China's vast numbers of non-Catholics have never been strongly against the Vatican. The Chinese public generally respects each Pope," it said in an editorial in its Chinese and English-language editions.
"Beijing and the Vatican will establish diplomatic relations sooner or later ... Pope Francis has a positive image with the Chinese public. It is expected he will push China-Vatican ties forward and solve related problems with his wisdom," it said.
The newspaper is published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily but, unlike its sister publication, does not speak for the party or the government.
Last week, Cardinal Joseph Zen, 86, the outspoken former bishop of Hong Kong, caused a stir with a Facebook post highly critical of the Vatican's recent overtures to China.
Another source of friction with China is the Vatican's maintenance of official ties with self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a wayward province to be taken back by force if necessary.
"The Taiwan question isn't Beijing's top concern in handling its relations with the Vatican as the mainland has many tools to pressure Taiwan," it said.
The Vatican is Taiwan's sole remaining European diplomatic ally. China has been ramping up the pressure on Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections in 2016.
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