Pope Francis in his first-ever interview on China has sent greetings to president Xi Jinping and the people of China. The interview was given to the online daily Asia Times, Hong Kong.

In the interview Pope Francis said, “For me, China has always been a reference point of greatness. A great country. But more than a country, a great culture, with an inexhaustible wisdom. For me, as a boy, whenever I read anything about China, it had the capacity to inspire my admiration. I have admiration for China”.

He also said that when he was young whenever China was spoken of it reminded him of Great Wall of China. The leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics talked about his admiration for the country and avoided sensitive issues like human rights.

Pope Francis emphasized on the common interest of China and Vatican and creating an environment for better relationship. The Vatican has no formal ties with Beijing after the Communist Party came in to power in 1949. However, it is trying to renew relationship with China and its state sanctioned Catholic Church, reported Reuters. The totalitarian regime did not allow any outside influence in the Chinese society and also set up its own Church which was not under Vatican.

Subsequently after the interview, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said, “China has always been sincere about improving Sino-Vatican ties… We are still willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican based on this principle, meeting each other halfway, and keep pushing forward the development of the process of improving bilateral relations.”

Asia Times columnist and China Renmin University senior research associate Francesco Sisci who took the interview said that he had asked for an interview on broad cultural and philosophical issues relating to all the people of China, 99 percent of  whom are non-Catholic.

He noted, “The Pope believes the Chinese are in a positive moment, and they should not be scared of this moment, nor should the world be afraid of China. He also believes the Chinese have a great legacy of wisdom that will enrich them and the rest of the world, and will help everyone to find a peaceful path forward.”