- China - Dalai Lama - Taiwan
AFP - The Dalai Lama arrived Wednesday in Taiwan's capital Taipei, as his nephew said the island's government had put a "gag order" on Tibet's exiled religious leader due to fears over China's reaction.
The Dalai Lama travelled on a high-speed train from the southern city of Kaohsiung after two days focused on the plight of communities devastated by last month's Typhoon Morakot.
The Dalai Lama's nephew, Khedroob Thondup, told AFP that Taiwan had directly requested the tour be kept low-profile.
"They put a gag order on him. Before he left India he was told not to say anything political and to curtail his activities," said Thondup, also a member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile in India.
"This was conveyed to our office in New Delhi. He was told to cut down even religious activities. This is all because of pressure from Beijing," he said by telephone from India.
A Taiwan government official denied a gag order existed, saying the Dalai Lama's schedule was arranged by the foundation that represents the Tibetan spiritual leader on the island.
"The Dalai Lama's schedule in Taiwan is decided by his foundation, and the government fully respects its decision," Wang Yu-chi, spokesman for President Ma Ying-jeou, told AFP.
The Dalai Lama's five-day visit has triggered strong reactions from Beijing, which considers him a "splittist" fighting for Tibetan independence, in turn causing the island's leaders to worry publicly about the impact on China ties.
"The coming few days will be extremely crucial," said Wu Poh-hsiung, chairman of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party, according to the Taipei-based China Times newspaper.
China sees both Tibet and Taiwan as inalienable parts of its territory, and the fact that he is now touring the island, which has governed itself since 1949, is an extra source of ire in Beijing.
"We have a typhoon blowing from Beijing," an unnamed KMT official said, according to the China Post newspaper Wednesday.
The official said a planned economic cooperation framework agreement, widely seen as the first step towards a free-trade pact with China, could be delayed because of the Dalai Lama's visit, "to the detriment of Taiwan".
The Taiwan government said earlier that China had cancelled various delegations to the island, including one led by a Chinese deputy central bank governor.
As the Dalai Lama arrived at the Howard Plaza Hotel in Taipei, about 100 protesters favouring Taiwan's reunification with China were waiting for him.
"The Chinese come to help, the Dalai Lama comes to make trouble," they chanted. They were waving posters saying "Taiwan, Tibet are both part of China."
At least one demonstrator was carried off by police after a scuffle with officers before the Dalai Lama's arrival.
Organisers said the Tibetan spiritual leader would spend most of Thursday at his hotel meeting Buddhist groups.
A mass appearance Thursday at a stadium with a capacity for thousands in Taoyuan, a city near Taipei, had been called off, according to Taiwan's Dalai Lama foundation.
This followed other cancellations earlier in the week, including an eagerly awaited press conference Monday, which was scrapped after a senior KMT official voiced fears that questions embarrassing to China might emerge.
Amid attempts to keep the visit discreet, the KMT government has repeatedly stressed the need to focus on comforting victims of Typhoon Morakot, which killed at least 609 people.
"If the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan is confined to the religious and humanitarian level and aimed at consoling the souls of the victims, there's no big problem," Premier Liu Chao-shiuan said, according to the China Times.