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China invites Vatican to flower expo as ties warm further

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China has invited the Vatican to participate in a major international horticultural show in Beijing later this month, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, in a further sign of warming ties.

Beijing cut diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1951 and has remained concerned that an independent Catholic Church in China could threaten its authority.

They reached a historic agreement last year on the appointment of bishops in China, but have not resumed diplomatic relations. The Vatican maintains ties with Taiwan instead, which China views as a wayward province.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, would attend "relevant activities" of the International Horticultural Exhibition in Beijing, which opens in late April.

China and the Vatican have continued to talk following the agreement on bishops and are working hard to improve relations, Lu added, without giving details.

Ravasi told reporters at the Vatican on Tuesday that their presence at the event will be "one step further" on the road of dialogue, and that the Vatican will have a pavilion at the expo.

President Xi Jinping is expected to attend the opening of the event.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Philip Pullella at the Vatican)

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