German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is on an official visit to China, is to travel to Guangdong province tomorrow, where she will meet with Bishop Joseph Gan Junqiu of Guangzhou at the Sacred Heart Cathedral.
“Government officials informed me about the visit on Wednesday afternoon and had come here to make security checks,” said the Vatican-approved bishop who has government recognition.
At a loss to why Merkel wants to meet him, Bishop Gan said the officials told him to “introduce the local diocese and try your best to answer whatever she asks.”
“As a Protestant and a state leader, Merkel showing her concern on the situation of Chinese Christians by visiting a Catholic leader is understandable,” according to Church in China observer Kwun Ping-hung.
“Foreign leaders will normally choose a typical region to visit in order to have an overall picture on contemporary China. In this case, Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong, is a gateway to China and a Catholic Church center in the southern region,” he said.
However, he doubts whether the chancellor will go into details such as talking about China-Vatican relations during her brief visit.
In diplomatic cables published by the Wikileaks website in September, Bishop Gan’s views on Vatican relations with mainland China and Taiwan were quoted from conversations he had with foreign diplomats in 2009.
Merkel arrived in Beijing yesterday on a three-day visit, during which she was to talk about the eurozone debt crisis and to lobby support for oil sanctions on Iran and UN action against Syria.
Her trip also marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and Germany.
In past trips to China, Merkel has also met with other Church leaders, including Catholic Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian of Shanghai, who speaks German, during a visit in 2006.