Vatican and China exchange art amid stall in hard diplomacy

The Vatican and China have announced a first-ever exchange of artworks for exhibits in Beijing and the Vatican Museums, as the two states forge ahead with soft diplomacy amid a stalemate in negotiations to heal decades of diplomatic estrangement.

The parallel exhibits, involving an exchange of 40 works of art from the Vatican's collection of Chinese bronzes, ceramics, cloisonne and paintings, and 40 works from China, are due to open simultaneously in March in the Forbidden City and the Vatican's ethnological museum.

The head of the government's China Culture Industrial Investment Fund, Zhu Jiancheng, told a Vatican news conference Tuesday that he hoped the exchanges would reinforce friendship, build mutual trust and "contribute to the normalization of diplomatic relations."

Pope Francis has made normalizing relations a priority.