Taiwan taking pains to make Dalai Lama’s visit non-political


Taipei : Taiwan’s government is trying to keep the Dalai Lama’s activities non-political during his visit next week to avoid angering China with which it has recently enjoyed warming ties.

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The focus of the trip by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader is to comfort victims of Typhoon Morakot. His preliminary schedule, released by his Taipei office Friday, showed he would arrive from India Sunday night and leave Friday morning.

He was scheduled to spend at least three days in southern Taiwan, which bore the brunt of Morakot this month but which is also away from the capital and the focus of the media.

“He will spend Monday, the first full day, in Kaohsiung, visiting the disaster areas and typhoon survivors,” a staff member from the Dalai Lama’s office said, asking not to be named.

The Dalai Lama is to remain in Kaohsiung Tuesday and Wednesday, holding prayer meetings and giving speeches, his office said. His Thursday schedule was undecided.

Local leaders in southern Taiwan invited the Dalai Lama to comfort the survivors of Morakot, which hit Taiwan Aug 8, unleashing mudslides and flooding. At least 461 people were killed and 192 were missing.

President Ma Ying-jeou, who said in December that the time was not ripe for the Dalai Lama to visit, approved his trip under pressure from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which insisted the Dalai Lama’s visit was vital for inspiring typhoon survivors to rebuild their homeland.

While Ma’s government has been the architect of improving relations with China, it is also facing harsh criticism over its slow reaction to the disaster and botched rescue efforts.

Taiwan media said the government, in an attempt to keep the Dalai Lama’s visit low-key and prevent him from engaging in political activities, wants him to stay in the disaster areas in southern Taiwan, but the DPP is trying to arrange a prayer meeting in northern Taiwan.

China protested the trip Thursday, saying it was firmly opposed to the Dalai Lama visiting Taiwan in whatever form because his true purpose is to split the Chinese motherland.

Beijing accused the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since 1959 after an abortive uprising against China’s invasion of Tibet, of campaigning for independence for the region, but the Dalai Lama has rejected those accusations and said he wants autonomy for Tibet within China.