Taiwan president's special envoy to attend late Pope's funeral

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks at a news conference on new measures to reinforce the island's civil defence amid the rising China military threat

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will send a special envoy to attend this week's funeral of former Pope Benedict, with her office saying it is a demonstration of the "deep friendship" between Taiwan and the Vatican, which has been courting China.

Benedict, the first pontiff in 600 years to resign and a standard bearer for conservatives who yearned for a more traditional Church, died on Saturday. His funeral will be held on Thursday.

The Vatican is Chinese-claimed Taiwan's sole European diplomatic ally, and Taipei has watched with concern as Pope Francis has moved to improve relations with China. The democratically governed island has formal ties with only 14 countries, largely due to Chinese pressure.

In a statement late on Saturday, Taiwan's presidential office said Tsai has appointed former Vice President Chen Chien-jen, a devout Catholic, as her special envoy to the funeral "based on the deep friendship between our country and the Vatican".

Chen went to the Vatican three times while in office, in 2016, 2018 and 2019, including attending the canonisation ceremony of Mother Teresa.

In September, while visiting the Vatican for the beatification of former Pope John Paul I, also as Tsai's envoy, Chen met Pope Francis and asked him to "pray for Taiwan".

(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Daniel Wallis)