Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has arrived in Taiwan to bring comfort to the victims of Typhoon Morakot, which wreaked havoc and killed hundreds of people earlier this month. His visit has drawn the ire of China's authorities.
AFP - The Dalai Lama arrived in Taiwan Sunday for a visit he said was devoted to healing the pain of Typhoon Morakot victims, as Beijing denounced his trip as likely to set back ties with Taipei.
The exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader -- decried by Beijing as a "separatist" bent on independence for his Himalayan homeland -- told reporters his five-day visit had no political design.
"I'm a monk. I was asked to say prayers for peace," he said at Taoyuan International Airport. "There is no politics. This is humanitarian in nature."
While hundreds of members of Taiwan's Tibetan community awaited his arrival at the airport for hours, a group of about 50 pro-Chinese demonstrators also turned up to protest.
Beijing denounced the visit, saying the opposition Democratic Progressive Party that invited him had an "ulterior motive" in doing so.
"The Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan is bound to have a negative influence on relations between the mainland and Taiwan," a spokesman for the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office said, quoted by China's official Xinhua news agency.
"We resolutely oppose this and our position is firm and clear.
"We will keep a close eye on the situation."
Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party, voted to power last year on a promise to improve relations with Beijing, emphasised that the trip was solely to comfort victims of Morakot, which killed at least 571 people this month.
"The Dalai Lama has the wisdom to tell what's politics and what's religion," KMT chairman Wu Poh-hsiung said. "He knows he is here to help but not to increase difficulties."
Beijing had already criticised the visit when it was first announced.
The party that invited the Dalai Lama, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), favours formal independence for the island from China.
But the ruling KMT has dispatched a high-level envoy to Beijing in a bid to prevent the visit doing lasting damage to cross-strait ties, the Taipei-based United Daily News reported.
The Dalai Lama was headed straight from the airport south to Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second-largest city, on the first bullet train arranged for any individual since the high-speed rail was inaugurated in 2007.
Highlighting the sensitive nature of the visit, officials said a scheduled press conference in Kaohsiung would not go ahead as planned on Monday.
"The latest information I got... is that the press briefing has been postponed," city mayor Chen Chu told AFP.
Parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-pyng had called on mayor Chen, a senior DPP figure and the organiser of the trip, to scrap the press event, citing concerns that issues sensitive to China might crop up.
Hsu Yung-ming, a political scientist at Taipei's Soochow University, said the Dalai Lama probably agreed not to hold the press conference in response to appeals from the island's government.
"This can be seen as his positive response to the administration's demand," he said.
Instead, the Dalai Lama was expected Monday to go directly to Hsiaolin, the southern village hit worst by the typhoon, at the start of a tour of disaster-stricken areas.
President Ma, under growing criticism over his handling of the typhoon, last week approved the visit of the Tibetan monk, sparking concern that Taipei may jeopardise its warming relations with China.
Beijing reacts angrily to any country hosting the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of trying to split Tibet from China, a position that has only hardened after deadly violence in the Himalayan region in March 2008.
But a trip to Taiwan is particularly sensitive. Beijing has regarded the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, ever since it split from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war.
The Dalai Lama is scheduled to return north to the region around Taipei towards the end of his visit, but there is no plan for him to meet Ma, the president's spokesman Wang Yu-chi told AFP Sunday.
"The trip is based on humanitarian and religious considerations, which should not hurt cross-strait ties," Wang said.
Date created : 2009-08-30