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China agrees to rare visit by Vatican envoy for Ukraine talks

(Adds previous complaints from Vatican in paragraph 9; clarifies uncertain if Zuppi to meet top officials, 10)

BEIJING, Sept 13 (Reuters) - The Chinese foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Vatican envoy Cardinal Matteo Zuppi will visit China for talks on resolving the conflict in Ukraine, despite the lack of formal bilateral relations between Beijing and the Holy See.

Li Hui, China's Special Envoy for Eurasian Affairs, will meet with Zuppi, foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular news conference.

«On the issue of Ukraine, China has always been committed to promoting peace talks,» said Mao. «We are ready to work with all parties and continue to play a constructive role in promoting de-escalation and cooling of the situation.»

Since Russian forces swept into Ukraine in February 2022, China has refrained from condemning its ally Moscow, although it has repeatedly called for a ceasefire and a political solution to the crisis.

Zuppi will be in China from Wednesday to Friday as part of a diplomatic push to facilitate peace in Ukraine, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

The Italian-born cardinal visited Kyiv and Moscow in June and then Washington in July as part of the Holy See's attempts to bring Ukraine and Russia to the negotiating table.

Hosting a senior papal envoy is seen as significant, given Beijing's cool ties with the Holy See.

The Vatican has bilateral relations with democratically governed Taiwan but not China, which claims the island as part of its territory. The Vatican is the only state in Europe to recognise Taipei.

Sino-Vatican ties have been brittle also due to differences over the appointments of bishops in China. The Vatican complains that Beijing has named bishops unilaterally several times, violating a landmark 2018 pact.

The Chinese foreign ministry did not give details on Zuppi's schedule or say whether he would meet China's top officials. Italian newspaper La Repubblica said he was likely to meet «top institutional leaders» in Beijing, including Premier Li Qiang.

The highest-level official encounter between China and the Vatican was a meeting between Archbishop Paul Gallagher and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in 2020 on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich. (Reporting by Ryan Woo and Ethan Wang; editing by Christian Schmollinger and Mark Heinrich)

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