Dalai Lama praises Taiwan democracy, angers China
Published: Monday August 31, 2009
The Dalai Lama praised Taiwan's democracy on Monday on the first full day of a tour that China has warned will hurt improving ties with the island.
While members of the Beijing-friendly ruling elite said they had no plans to meet Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, he urged Taiwan to cherish its democracy, which is often contrasted with the mainland's stern one-party rule.
"You enjoy democracy, you must preserve it. I tell my friends no matter what political party (they belong to)," he said. "I myself am totally dedicated to the promotion of democracy."
The Dalai Lama, who visited the south Taiwan village of Hsiaolin, where at least 424 people died in a massive typhoon-triggered mudslide in early August, said his five-day tour was solely to comfort victims of the disaster.
"My visit is non-political, humanitarian. I have no political agenda," the Dalai Lama told reporters.
A much-anticipated press conference originally scheduled for Monday was cancelled, after a senior member of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party voiced concern that issues deemed sensitive by China might come up.
A lecture which the Dalai Lama was to give Tuesday in the southern city of Kaohsiung at a stadium with a 15,000 capacity had been moved to a room at his hotel with seats for just 1,200, his local representatives said.
"The main organisers were concerned about the Dalai Lama's personal safety," the Taiwan Dalai Lama Foundation said in a statement.
President Ma Ying-jeou, who met the Dalai Lama during both the Buddhist monk's two previous trips to the island, has no meeting scheduled this time around, his spokesman said.
"We have said before that there is no such an arrangement," Wang Yu-chi told AFP.
Vice President Vincent Siew, Premier Liu Chao-hsiuan, parliament speaker Wang Jin-pyng and KMT chairman Wu Poh-hsiung also had no plans to meet the Dalai Lama, according to officials.
Taiwan's China-friendly President Ma, 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.
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 become formally independent from China.
Observers argue Ma had little choice but to allow the Nobel laureate to travel to the island, but believe he and his ruling KMT party will do their utmost to prevent controversy during the visit.
Even so, 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.
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.