Vatican names China's Hangzhou bishop via accord with Beijing

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis holds weekly general audience at the Vatican

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis has appointed Giuseppe Yang Yongqiang as bishop of Hangzhou, the capital of China's eastern province of Zhejiang, Vatican said on Saturday as it strives to strengthen relations with Beijing.

The prelate will be relocating from Zhoucun, in northern Shandong province, it added.

The appointment follows a landmark accord the Vatican first struck with China in 2018, renewing it for a further two years in 2022, over the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops in the communist country.

The deal was an attempt to ease a longstanding divide across mainland China between an underground flock loyal to the pope and a state-backed official church.

For the first time since the 1950s, both sides recognised the pope as supreme leader of the Catholic Church.

Conservative Catholics have criticised the bishops' deal as a sellout to communist China, but the Vatican has defended it as an imperfect means to have some form of dialogue with the authorities for the good of all Chinese Catholics.

Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin said last month the Vatican would like to establish a permanent office in China in what would be a major upgrade of diplomatic relations with Beijing.

(Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Angus MacSwan)