August 27, 2009

Taiwan risks China’s wrath by welcoming Dalai Lama

by Benjamin Graham

Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou has approved an application by the Dalai Lama to visit a typhoon-hit island in the country.

“We have decided to the Dalai Lama’s visit to pray for the souls of the deceased and seek blessings for the survivors of the typhoon,” Ma said.

In approving the visit, Taiwan risks provoking China’s anger.

Chinese officials usually speak out against countries that allow the Dalai Lama to visit, as they view the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader as a dangerous separatist.

Taiwan’s move is especially controversial as China considers the island group as part of its territory.

The invite is a particular surprise because Ma previously said this year was not an appropriate time for the Dalai Lama to visit the country.

Ma was elected on a manifesto to improve relations with China.

Under this leadership, the relationship between the two countries has advanced significantly, with shipping and passenger flight links established for the first time since the countries split in a civil war 60 years ago.

A spokesperson for the president refused to comment on whether Ma would meet with the Dalai Lama.

“We welcome the Dalai Lama to come to Taiwan to take part in mass prayers,” the spokesperson said.

He added that the visit had been allowed “for humanitarian and religious considerations.”

“We believe it will not harm cross-strait relations,” he said.

The Dalai Lama was exiled from China in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet.

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