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BEIJING (Reuters) - A top Chinese health official will attend a conference at the Vatican on organ trafficking this week, a state run newspaper said on Monday, with the visit coming as China and the Holy See try to improve ties.
Pope Francis would like to heal a decades-old rift with China where Catholics are divided between those loyal to him and those who are members of a government-controlled official church.
The Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said on its website that Huang Jiefu, a former vice-minister of health and the current head of the China Human Organ Donation and Transplant Committee, would attend for China.
It gave no other details of his attendance at the Feb. 7-8 Summit on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism.
In 2015, China officially ended systematic use of organs from executed prisoners in transplants, a practice long condemned by international human rights groups and medical ethicists.
Authorities keen to promote an image of a donor system more in keeping with China's growing prominence, have cracked down on a black market in organ trafficking and stepped up public donor rates to help meet a huge demand for transplants.
It is not clear if Huang would meet any Vatican officials to discuss broader relations with China.
One of the obstacles to improving ties is the question of who should be able to appoint senior clergy in China.
China says bishops must be named by the Chinese Catholic community and refuses to accept the authority of the pope, whom it sees as the head of a foreign state that has no right to meddle in China's affairs.
The two sides have been at loggerheads since the expulsion of foreign missionaries from China after the Communists took power in 1949.
Another source of friction is the Vatican's maintenance of official ties with self-ruled Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing as its own.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel