Pope Francis said on Tuesday he was willing to go to China at any time but had “no news” to offer over speculation he might meet Chinese President Xi Jinping while both are in Kazakhstan.
Francis arrived in Kazakhstan after a six-hour flight from Rome at the start of a three-day trip to attend a peace meeting of world religious leaders.
Francis, who suffers from a knee ailment, for the first time on his trips used a finger ramp to exit the plane and enter the terminal on a wheelchair.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev greeted the pope briefly at the airport before the pope travelled in a small white car to the gleaming marble presidential palace for a private meeting with the head of state ahead of an address to government officials and the diplomatic corps.
Speaking to reporters accompanying him on his flight to the central Asian republic, Francis was asked whether he might meet Xi in its capital Nur-Sultan, where both men will be on Wednesday.
“I don’t have any news about that,” the pope replied.
Asked if he was ready to go to China, Francis responded: “I am always ready to go to China”.
Francis used a cane to walk around the plane greeting reporters as he usually does on such trips. He appeared in pain by the time he returned to his own seat in the front section of the aircraft.
Francis has tried to ease the historically poor relations between the Holy See and China, and told Reuters in an interview in July that he hoped to renew a secret and contested agreement on the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops in China.