Taipei / Beijing: China promptly denounced a proposed trip to Taiwan by the Dalai Lama on Thursday, saying any such visit by a man Beijing brands a separatist threatened to “sabotage” improving relations.
Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by Beijing, approved the visit by the Nobel Peace laureate to comfort victims of a deadly typhoon at a time of burgeoning trade and investment between the rivals.
“No matter under what form or identity Dalai uses to enter Taiwan, we resolutely oppose this,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Bureau said in a statement carried by Xinhua news agency.
“Some of the people in the Democratic Progressive Party use the disaster rescue excuse to invite Dalai to Taiwan to sabotage the hard-earned positive situation of cross-straits relations.”
Beijing brands the India-based Tibetan luminary as a separatist and condemns his trips abroad.
An aide to the Dalai Lama in the Indian town of Dharamsala said the spiritual leader had been keen to visit Taiwan.
“As of now, we are planning a visit to Taiwan and the dates are still being worked out,” Tenzin Taklha said. “We want to make it very clear that the Dalai Lama is visiting Taiwan to express condolences to victims and lead prayers.”
China is considered unlikely to retaliate by choking off growing economic ties between the long-time political rivals.
By blaming the opposition DPP and not Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou or the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT), Beijing may have indicated it does not wish to escalate the issue.
“Beijing will be a little uncomfortable, but if they understand how severe the disaster is they will show some respect to Taiwan’s people,” KMT Secretary-General Wu Den-yih said.
About 650 people are feared dead after Typhoon Morakot, the island’s worst typhoon in 50 years, soaked Taiwan from 7-9 August.
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.
But Beijing is also aware any strong moves against the Dalai Lama could play into the hands of Taiwanese opponents of President Ma, who has sought to ease tensions with Beijing.
The Taiwan president’s office, under fire for perceptions the response to Typhoon Morakot was too slow, and national security officials met for five hours late on Wednesday and decided to permit a visit, the Government Information Office said.
Admitting the Dalai Lama lets Ma give the impression that Ma is not driven solely concerned with ties with Beijing, said Hsu Yung-ming, a political science professor at Soochow University.
“He doesn’t want people to think he cares only about China, that he also cares about Taiwan,” Hsu said.
Taiwan, home to a large exiled Tibetan community and millions of Buddhists, allowed visits by the Dalai Lama in 1997 and 2001.
Ma last year quashed hopes for a new visit by the Tibetan spiritual leader, saying the timing was wrong. Taiwan Buddhist groups criticised that decision.
Since taking office in 2008, Ma’s administration has avoided action that could anger Beijing as he pursues trade ties.
“We’ve ... decided to let the Dalai Lama visit as he is coming here to pray for the dead victims, as well as the survivors,” Ma told reporters while visiting typhoon survivors.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule over Tibet.