China's Catholic church on Monday praised a letter from Pope Benedict XVI and voiced hope that the Vatican and Beijing will soon be able to establish formal relations.
The warm response from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association came as observers of the decades-long dispute between the Vatican and China said the pontiff's missive could lead to further positive developments.
"The pope, through his papal letter has expressed his love and concern for China's believers.... this is different from earlier papal letters," the deputy head of the association, Liu Bainian, told AFP.
"Earlier papal letters were opposed to communism and the socialist system. They wanted to (punish) members of China's patriotic church. Now the situation is not the same. The pope wants to better understand China's Church."
The letter, published Saturday, expressed "good intentions," Liu said, adding that he hoped Beijing and the Vatican could soon establish diplomatic relations, severed in 1951.
In a Saturday statement, China's foreign ministry also reiterated its long-standing conditions for the normalisation of ties -- that the Vatican break off relations with Taiwan, and not interfere in its internal affairs.