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China "notes Pope's new year message"

Beijing is said to have responded to the gesture by calling on the Vatican to be flexible in building stronger ties between the two states.

Relations are thought to have been difficult, given disagreement over the recognition of the island of Taiwan's sovereignty.

Another aggravating factor has been differing views over whether the Holy See or the Chinese government should determine the appointment of bishops.

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry is quoted as saying the country is "sincere" in its desire to improve relations with the Vatican and engage in "positive dialogue."

They also urged the Vatican to take a "flexible" and "pragmatic" approach.

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