Taiwan president in rare European foray to attend installation mass for Pope Francis

Taiwan's president will attend the installation of Pope Francis in Vatican City, a rare European foray for the head of the diplomatically isolated island.

Vice foreign Minister Shih Yeh-ping said Friday that President Ma Ying-jeou and first lady Christina Chou will be lead the Taiwanese delegation to the event.

Taiwan has full diplomatic relations with only 23 countries, most of them in Latin America, Africa, and the south Pacific.

Its only diplomatic ally in Europe is the Vatican.

Shih said Taiwan had no contact with China on the question of Ma's visit.

Beijing normally tries to limit the island's diplomatic exposure, part of its insistence that Taiwan is part of its territory, with no sovereign rights of its own.

The two sides split amid civil war in 1949.