Taiwan stresses no politics in Dalai Lama visit

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan's president says he will not meet with the Dalai Lama when the Tibetan spiritual leader visits the island Sunday to comfort victims of the island's worst storm in half a century.

All parties involved, including China and the Taiwanese opposition, have big stakes in what happens during the five-day visit.

China has long vilified the Dalai Lama for what it says are his attempts to fight for independence in Tibet, which has been under Communist rule for decades.

Beijing routinely lashes out at countries that agree to host the 74-year-old religious figure. It has said it "resolutely opposes" the Taiwan visit "in whatever form and capacity."

In Beijing's eyes, Taiwan is part of China. The two sides split amid civil war in 1949, and China's leaders have never flagged in their determination to return the self-governing island to their fold.

Complicating matters is the rapid improvement in relations between Taipei and Beijing during the 15-month administration of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.

Ma has turned the corner on his predecessor's anti-China policies, bringing the Taiwanese and Chinese economies closer together and speaking repeatedly in favor of a peace treaty.

In what was widely seen as a step to placate Beijing, Ma blocked a Dalai Lama visit last December, saying the timing was "not appropriate."

Steps like that trouble the Taiwanese opposition, which wants formal independence for the island and accuses Ma of laying the groundwork to hand it over to Beijing - a charge that Ma vigorously denies.

On Wednesday, the opposition struck back, announcing that seven of its mayors and county magistrates had invited the Dalai Lama to come to Taiwan to offer spiritual comfort to the victims of Typhoon Morakot, which struck earlier this month and left an estimated 670 dead.

The invitation put Ma in a bind - either risk angering China or give further ammunition to his detractors, who were already reveling over widespread perceptions that Ma's government had badly botched typhoon relief efforts.

On Thursday, Ma surprised many by announcing the Dalai Lama could indeed come to Taiwan - "to help rest the souls of the dead and also pray for the well-being of the survivors."


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