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Chinese government attacks Dalai Lama's proposed visit to Taiwan

August 31, 2009

Visit by Tibetan spritual leader to comfort
typhoon Morakot survivors could sabotage improving relations, says Beijing
Tania Branigan in Beijing and agencies
August 27, 2009

China today attacked the Dalai Lama's proposed
visit to Taiwan, but blamed the island's
opposition party for a move that it says could sabotage improving ties.

The official statement -- carried by the state
news agency Xinhua -- followed the Taiwanese
president's decision to admit the exiled Tibetan
spiritual leader. Ma Ying-jeou said the Dalai
Lama would make the visit to comfort survivors of
typhoon Morakot, which killed an estimated 650 people this month.

"No matter under what form or identity Dalai uses
to enter Taiwan, we resolutely oppose this," said
China's Taiwan affairs office.

"Some of the people in the Democratic Progressive
party [DPP] use the disaster rescue excuse to
invite Dalai to Taiwan to sabotage the
hard-earned positive situation of cross-straits relations."

Beijing usually objects strongly when overseas
governments admit the spiritual leader. But the
case of Taiwan is particularly sensitive because
China still claims sovereignty over the
self-ruled island, which split from the mainland
when the defeated Kuomintang (KMT) fled there at
the end of the civil war in 1949.

At the same time, Chinese officials have little
desire to play into the hands of anti-Beijing
opposition politicians -- perhaps explaining the
decision to blame the DPP rather than the president.

Ma had previously said this year was not an
appropriate time for the Dalai Lama to visit,
leading critics to claim he was attempting to
placate Beijing. The KMT leader was elected on a
platform of improving ties with China and the
resulting thaw has produced the first direct
passenger flights and shipping links in 60 years.

But Ma's authority has been badly dented by the
government's response to Morakot. Voters have
accused the authorities of a slow and inadequate
response to the emergency – making it harder for
Ma to risk another political row when opposition
politicians invited the Dalai Lama to "console"
the disaster's survivors on a five-day trip to begin as early as next week.

Visiting a school destroyed by mudslides in
Nantou County today, Ma told reporters: "The
Dalai Lama could come to Taiwan to help rest the
souls of the dead and also pray for the wellbeing of the survivors."

Presidential spokesman Wang Yu-chi declined to
say if Ma would meet the Dalai Lama, but said the
visit would be strictly religious, with no political overtones.

He added that the visit had been approved "for
humanitarian and religious considerations -- and
we believe it will not harm cross-strait relations."

The government information office said that the
president's office and national security
officials met for five hours last night before agreeing to permit a visit.

Hsu Yung-ming, a political science professor at
Soochow University, said admitting the Dalai Lama
would allow Ma to show he was not only concerned about ties with Beijing.

"He doesn't want people to think he cares only
about China, [but] that he also cares about Taiwan," Hsu said.

The spiritual leader has accepted the invitation
"in principle," his spokesman Tenzin Takhla said
from Dharamsala, India, where the Tibetan government-in-exile is based.

Taiwan has a sizable Tibetan community and the
Dalai Lama has visited the island three times in
the past 12 years, drawing crowds of tens of
thousands, although his last trip was eight years ago.

But Beijing usually objects strongly when the
Dalai Lama travels away from his base in India.
Earlier this year, officials demanded that Paris
"stop interfering in China's internal affairs"
when the mayor gave him honorary citizenship.

According to Xinhua's statement, the spokesman
for the Taiwan affairs office said the Dalai Lama
was "not a pure religious figure", adding: "Under
the pretext of religion, he has all along been
engaged in separatist activities."

The spiritual leader denies the claim, saying he
seeks meaningful autonomy for Tibet rather than a separate state.

Separately, Taiwan's parliament approved a
special reconstruction budget of up to T$120bn
(£2.25bn) to cope with damage caused by the
typhoon. Morakot brought the worst floods seen in
the south of the island for half a century and
caused mudslides that buried hundreds of villagers.

Analysts said the finance ministry could raise
the money through loans or by issuing bills and bonds.
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