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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

The Dalai Lama in Taiwan: Splittists' reunion

September 4, 2009

Sep 3rd 2009
The Economist

A VISIT from the Dalai Lama was surely the last thing Taiwan's president, Ma
Ying-jeou, wanted amid widespread public anger over his government's slow
response to a deadly typhoon in August. An angry China could have greatly
added to his woes. But for all its grumbling about the trip, which is due to
end on September 4th, the mainland does not want to upset a budding
friendship.

Mr Ma was well aware that he was taking a risk when he decided on August
27th to approve the Dalai Lama's request to visit the island. It would be
the exiled Tibetan leader's first trip there since 2001 and only his third
ever. China was furious on the previous occasions, accusing the Taiwanese
authorities of colluding with Tibetan "splittists". Then, however, Taiwan
was led by presidents who delighted in riling the mainland. Mr Ma came to
power last year promising to mend fences.

Mr Ma does not want to jeopardise trade negotiations that Taiwan hopes to
launch with China in October. His government is keen to secure tariff cuts
for industries that it believes will be put at a disadvantage when a
free-trade pact between China and the Association of South-East Asian
Nations takes effect next year (see article). Mr Ma's goal is for Taiwan to
secure a similar free-trade deal.

In truth he had little choice but to approve the trip. On August 26th seven
local politicians from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP),
which favours Taiwan's formal independence from China, surprised him by
publicly announcing that the Dalai Lama had accepted their invitation to
visit Taiwan to pray for the souls of Taiwanese who had died during Typhoon
Morakot, which ravaged the island earlier in August. The storm left almost
700 people dead. Mr Ma had turned down a proposed visit by the Dalai Lama
last year, saying the timing was not right. This time he risked appearing
heartless if he had refused. Plunging popularity polls suggested he could
not afford that.

So far, he seems to have pulled off his balancing act. China's predictable
outrage (it does not like the Dalai Lama paying visits anywhere) stopped
short of blaming Mr Ma himself. The president helped by ruling out a meeting
with the Dalai Lama, unlike his predecessors President Lee Teng-hui who had
done so in 1997 and President Chen Shui-bian who had met him in 2001.

The Dalai Lama, for his part, appeared eager to avoid trouble. "My visit
here is of a non-political nature," he said at the airport at the start of
his six-day visit. "Actually, I am a Buddhist monk. It's my moral principle
to come if someone asks me to share sadness." His aides cancelled a speech
and a press conference and scaled down a public meeting. The Dalai Lama's
nephew, Khedroob Thondup, said this was a result of heavy pressure from Mr
Ma's National Security Council.

In the village of Hsiao Lin, now a grey mass of rubble where an estimated
500 people were buried alive in a landslide triggered by the typhoon, the
Dalai Lama embraced weeping relatives of the villagers. Deliberately placing
his face away from journalists' microphones, the exiled Tibetan leader said
Taiwan was enjoying democracy. "I myself am totally dedicated to the pursuit
of democracy," he said.

China's retaliation has been desultory. A delegation led by Su Ning, China's
deputy central bank governor, which was scheduled to arrive in Taiwan on
August 31st, postponed its visit-but only by a week. Chinese officials may
be pleased that the DPP has apparently gained little. Whatever gains it
might have made were overshadowed on September 1st when former President
Chen's wife, son, daughter and son-in-law were jailed for perjury. On
September 11th a court is due to announce a verdict in the corruption trial
of Mr Chen himself. Few expect an acquittal.
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