BEIJING, JAN. 16, 2001 (
China for now has ruled out any chance of a visit of John Paul II to the country.

The news was announced Monday by Prime Minister Zhu Rongji to Giuliano Amato, his Italian counterpart, during a two-hour meeting here.

At the beginning of his three-day tour of China, Amato told the press that tension must be reduced between the Vatican and Beijing, which was aggravated by the canonization of 120 China martyrs last Oct. 1.

When the Italian Prime Minister mentioned the topic of a possible visit by the Holy Father to China, Zhu was very clear: "No, it´s not possible."

The Communist official said, "The Vatican has offended us; it has opened a wound. Now a period of maturation is indispensable."

The Chinese government expressed its "highest indignation" over the canonization of the martyrs, who died in China between 1648 and 1930. Beijing´s Foreign Minister went as far as to say that it was "an obvious provocation and attempt to distort the verdict of history on colonialism and imperialism."

China broke its diplomatic contacts with Rome in 1951. There are 11 million Catholics in the country, just under half of whom are affiliated to the Chinese Patriotic Association, a state-controlled "church."

On a positive note, Zhu said: "We do not think the dialogue is closed; however, now we await an official step from the Vatican."

As early as last July, when the Chinese prime minister visited Rome, the first question Amato asked him was about a papal visit to Beijing. On that occasion, Zhu answered that the Vatican would first have to break diplomatic relations with Taiwan and commit itself not to interfere in the life of the Church in China. This means, among other things, that the Pope would not appoint Chinese bishops.