Senior Chinese official says he hasn't met Hong Kong's cardinal

The new Hong Kong-based commissioner of China's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday he hasn't met with Cardinal Joseph Zen since arriving two months ago, but he insisted he wasn't avoiding the Roman Catholic leader, one of the city's most prominent figures.

"There hasn't been an opportunity for us to meet. It's not that I tried to deliberately avoid him," the new commissioner, Lu Xinhua, told reporters at his welcome reception.

Zen has long been a controversial figure in Beijing's eyes because of his frequent calls for greater democracy in Hong Kong and more religious freedom in mainland China. In recent weeks, Zen has blasted China's state-sanctioned Catholic church for appointing bishops who weren't approved by the Vatican.

China cut formal ties with the Vatican shortly after the Communist Party took over the mainland in 1949. Chinese Catholics must worship in the state-approved church, which doesn't recognize the Vatican.

The Holy See and Beijing have been talking about restoring ties, but one of the major sticking points has been which has the authority to appoint bishops.

But Lu said he was optimistic the talks would succeed. "It's just a matter of time before China establishes ties with the Vatican," he said.

Beijing has treated Hong Kong differently since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. China promised the city it would enjoy a wide degree of autonomy, so the territory's Roman Catholic church is aligned with the Holy See.

Zen was appointed cardinal on Feb. 22, and held a reception shortly after returning to Hong Kong. He has said that he invited officials from China's liaison office in Hong Kong to attend the event but they decline the invitation, saying they had other engagements.

Lu heads the Chinese Commissioner's Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which handles foreign relations issues related to Hong Kong, reports the AP.

I.L. 

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