Dalai Lama visits typhoon victims
KAOHSIUNG: The Dalai Lama headed for typhoon hit areas of southern Taiwan Monday on the first full day of a tour that China has warned will hurt improving ties with the island.
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader headed straight for Hsiaolin, a village where at least 424 people died in Typhoon Morakot, cancelling a press conference that local officials feared could have angered Beijing.
"I'm a monk. I was asked to say prayers for peace," the Dalai Lama said late Sunday after arriving in Taiwan from India. "There is no politics. This is humanitarian in nature."
However, shortly after the Dalai Lama's arrival, the Chinese government issued its second stern criticism of the trip, warning that it would bring about a setback in cross-strait ties.
"The Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan is bound to have a negative influence on relations between the mainland and Taiwan," a spokesman for the cabinet-level Taiwan Affairs Office said, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.
"We resolutely oppose this, and our position is firm and clear. We will keep a close eye on the situation."
China considers Taiwan a part of its territory, and a visit by the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of wanting to split Tibet from Chinese control, is a source of particular anger in Beijing.
The Dalai Lama is in Taiwan at the invitation of a group of high-profile members of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which wants the island to be formally independent from China.
Taiwan's China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, who has come in for heavy criticism for his handling of the typhoon, which left at least 571 people dead, approved the Dalai Lama's visit last week.
Observers argue Ma had little choice but to allow the Nobel laureate to travel to the island, but believe he and his ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party will do their utmost to prevent controversy during the visit.
The Dalai Lama was initially scheduled to hold a press conference for local and foreign reporters in Kaohsiung Monday, but the event was called off.
The announcement of the cancellation followed remarks Sunday by Taiwan's parliamentary speaker, a senior KMT figure, suggesting the briefing could have raised issues that would embarrass China.
Despite efforts to focus on the humanitarian aspect of the Dalai Lama's visit, about 30 people demonstrated outside his hotel Monday, accusing him of politicking.
"The Dalai Lama is only staging a political show here," said the leader of the protesters, members of Taiwan's non-Han aboriginal community.
"If the Dalai Lama really wants to help victims and show respect, he should stay in an aboriginal village, not in a big building like this," he said, pointing towards the hotel.