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Taiwan stresses no politics in Dalai Lama visit, AP

August 31, 2009

By PETER ENAV, Associated Press Writer
August 29, 2009

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) - 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."

China issued a denunciation, but blamed the opposition for the
invitation, rather than Ma himself, in what appeared to be an effort
to keep the rapidly improving relations between Taipei and Beijing on track.

On Friday, Ma spokesman Wang Yu-chi signaled that the Taiwanese side
understood Beijing's lead, declaring that Ma would not see the Dalai
Lama during his stay.

"Our understanding is that the Dalai Lama's visit is to attend
religious activities," he said. "We will not arrange (a meeting)."

A spokesman for the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Taklha, has also denied the
visit has any political subtext.

"It is a spiritual visit. The purpose is to offer prayers for the
victims and to offer comfort and succor to those who have survived,"
Takhla told The Associated Press.

For its part, the Taiwanese opposition says it agrees with the
characterization, though it has been pressing Ma to consent to a meeting.

Associated Press Writer Nirmala George contributed to this report
from New Delhi.
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