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Inside China: Taiwan president attends papal inauguration

- - Thursday, March 21, 2013

The diplomatically isolated democratic island of Taiwan won a major international victory this week as the country's president and first lady took part in the papal investiture at the Vatican.

On Tuesday, right after his inaugural Mass, Pope Francis met with President Ma Ying-jeou and his wife Chow Mei-ching, marking the first time a pontiff spoke in person with a Taiwanese president.

"Francis is warm, passionate and extremely friendly, always wearing a smile during our interaction," an ebullient Mr. Ma was quoted as saying in the official Taiwanese government publication Taiwan Today.

Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, has long maintained friendly ties to the Vatican.

"[Taiwan] and the Holy See have entered our 71st year of friendship and share the universal values of democracy, human rights, liberty, peace and the rule of law," said Mr. Ma after meeting with the pontiff, apparently taking a dig at the conspicuous lack of such virtues in communist China.

The Beijing government has spent an enormous amount of resources over the past several decades in an effort to diplomatically strangle Taiwan. China views the island as breakaway province.

In a similar vein, Beijing also vehemently resents any Vatican influence in China and has never recognized the authority and legitimacy of the pope over Roman Catholics inside China.

As a result, the Vatican is the only European country that maintains diplomatic relations with Taipei.

The Chinese communist government also sent a note of congratulations to the newly anointed pope. But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated that the Vatican must end its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan and end what she called its interference in China's domestic affairs.

China is among the world's most flagrant violators of religious freedom, according to human rights groups. Millions of Catholics inside China suffer severe police harassment for organizing underground churches. Family churches that pledge loyalty to the pope, rather than the Chinese Communist Party, also are persecuted.

Report: Chinese acknowledge radar lock

"Senior Chinese military officials" recently acknowledged that a Chinese naval frigate beamed its fire-control radar directly at a nearby Japanese destroyer, Japan's Kyodo news services reported this week.

Chinese communist government authorities immediately denied the report and accused the news service of spreading lies. Japan earlier blamed China for the Jan. 30 incident.

The initial Japanese claim of the radar illumination -- regarded as a hostile act by navies -- prompted the Japanese to lodge a serious diplomatic protest with Beijing. China reacted by vehemently denying the Japanese narrative, calling it a "groundless fabrication."

Japan's defense officials then announced that they planned to release technical radar data proving the Chinese action. But Japanese intelligence officials intervened and forced the Japanese government to withdraw the data release offer amid concerns the Chinese would learn how Japanese technicians detected, intercepted and recorded key military technical data.

The Kyodo report, however, said Chinese military sources confirmed the Japanese account but blamed the commander of the Chinese navy for acting without the permission of naval headquarters.

The Chinese sources said the Chinese frigate and the Japanese destroyer were about 2 miles apart and about 80 miles north of the Senakaku islands.

"The commander of the frigate directed the fire-control radar at the destroyer, based on its rules of engagement and without seeking directions from fleet command or navy headquarters," they told Kyodo.

The Chinese government immediately called the report another "groundless fabrication" -- a standard tool used by the communist government as a way to avoid comment on controversial subjects.

"China has repeatedly stated its stand on this issue. The truth of the matter is extremely apparent. Japan's so-called narrative that a Chinese naval frigate locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese destroyer and a Japanese military helicopter is fabricated," said an official statement issued by the Chinese National Defense Ministry's spokesman Monday.

"The Japanese side from time to time hypes the [story] with aims to mislead the international community, and such action is directed by ulterior motives," the statement said.

On the same day, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency published a report headlined the "resolute denial of Japan's lie" by the "relevant departments" of the Chinese Navy.

"Our navy's chain of command is highly unified and centralized, strictly following the rules and regulations," said Xinhua.

"The Kyodo report on this affair is pure fabrication and deliberately mendacious. Its main objective is to create stains on the Chinese military, mislead international opinion and seek sympathy."

"The Japanese side must deeply self-reflect [on its own errors]," a Chinese defense ministry spokesman demanded. "Japan must stop making irresponsible statements such as this."

The harsh tone of the report reflects Chinese Communist Party worries over growing signs in recent years that its military is not fully under civilian control.

• Miles Yu's column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @yu_miles.