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Asia-pacific

President Ma Ying-jeou approves Dalai Lama visit

Video by Kate WILLIAMS

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-08-27

Exiled Titetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama will visit Taiwan next week. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has approved his visit after he was invited by various majors and magistrates, despite the risk of a diplomatic row with Beijing.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou on Thursday approved a visit next week by the Dalai Lama to the typhoon-hit island in a move analysts say could damage Taipei's efforts to improve ties with China.
  
"We have decided to agree to the Dalai Lama's visit to pray for the souls of the deceased and seek blessings for the survivors of the typhoon," Ma told reporters in central Nantou county.
  
The Dalai Lama, whom Beijing has accused of trying to split Tibet from China and reacts angrily to any country or territory hosting him, said last year that he wanted to visit Taiwan but Ma said then that the timing was not right.
  
The visit, scheduled for August 31st to September 4th, is likely to be greeted with particular consternation in Beijing because China regards Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification -- by force, if necessary.
  
Ma's spokesman Wang Yu-chi attempted to play down the political significance of the trip, saying it was "based on humanitarian and religious considerations which should not hurt cross-strait ties."
  
The Dalai Lama, who made a historic first visit to Taiwan in 1997 and went again in 2001, is expected to see the south of the island after it was battered by a strong typhoon two weeks ago which left 463 people dead.
  
Ma, then mayor of Taipei, met the Tibetan spiritual leader on his previous visits, although his office declined to comment if they would meet again this time.
  
Beijing condemned the Dalai Lama's earlier visits and analysts warned that next week's trip and a possible meeting with Ma could deal a severe blow to warming ties since the Taiwan president took office last year.
  
"Ma's government could minimise the damage to cross-strait ties if the visit focuses on religious activities," said George Tsai, a China expert at the Taipei-based Chinese Culture University.
  
"But Ma risks undoing the goodwill he has built up with China by meeting the Dalai Lama," added Tsai.
  
Some lawmakers of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party shared those concerns.
  
"We hope the Dalai Lama will help us seek blessings and ward off disasters. We don't wish to see him engage in political activities here," parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-pyng told reporters.
  
Another KMT lawmaker accused the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of politicising the fallout from Typhoon Morakot, which also left nearly 200 in the south of the island missing.
  
The Dalai Lama was invited by seven DPP mayors and magistrates.
  
"There is no need for such a controversial visit at such a time. Is it that the monks who come afar can pray better than local monks? This is a political manipulation," said KMT's Lo Shu-lei.
  
In Beijing, China's Taiwan Affairs Office declined to immediately comment on the visit by the Dalai Lama, whose spokesman Tenzin Taklha told AFP had accepted the invitation.
  
The Tibetan spiritual leader and his exiled government have been based in Dharamshala, in northern India, since 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
  
China and Taiwan split in 1949 after a civil war, but Ma has been working to improve relations and has moved to boost trade and tourism with China after eight years of strained ties under the DPP.

Date created : 2009-08-27

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