Kyodo News Report


Dalai Lama meets Taiwan DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009
By Max Hirsch

Kaohsiung, TAIWAN -- The Dalai Lama met on Tuesday with Taiwan's opposition chief amid a hectic schedule of leading mass prayers and delivering two-hour remarks, as China's anger over the Buddhist leader's visit to the island mounted and bilateral business deals worth hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars hung in the balance.

The Dalai Lama held private talks with main opposition Democractic Progressive Party (DPP) chairwoman Tsai Ying-wen before leading prayers for some 10,000 followers in a packed stadium in this southern city, Taiwan's second biggest. The 30-minute meeting skirted hot-button political issues, DPP spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang said, without elaborating.

But Tsai, Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu and other DPP officials accompanied the Dalai Lama throughout the day, as some ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) members stepped up their criticism that the spiritual leader's visit was rife with political undertones. Such undertones, the KMT warned, were pushing China to scupper exchanges and business deals across the Taiwan Strait worth nearly US$1.5 billion.

"As a result of the Dalai Lama's visit, China is trending toward postponing or canceling procurement deals worth more than US$1.4 billion," KMT secretary-general Wu Dun-yi told reporters on Tuesday. He did not elaborate.

However, the DPP and the Dalai Lama, who is conducting a five-day trip here from Aug. 31, insisted the visit was non-political. Led by Chen, DPP politicians in the island's south last week invited the Buddhist leader to visit the island and pray for the victims of Typhoon Morakot, which lashed the island with heavy rains from Aug. 7-9, killing more than 600 people and causing billions of U.S. dollars in damage -- mostly in the island's DPP-controlled south.

Politically weakened by his administration's lagging response to the storm, KMT standard-bearer President Ma Ying-jeou was ill-positioned to block the invitation. Ma had rejected the prospect of a visit by the Dalai Lama last year amid warming cross-strait ties, saying "the timing is not appropriate."

"The main reason [for my visiting], is to see those people who lost their family members and friends," the Dalai Lama said in his speech, referring to storm victims. He added, "As soon as I received the invitation, I thought it was my moral responsibility to share some of their trauma."

But Ma's centerpiece policy, cross-strait relations, seemed to wobble amid mounting anger in China over the visit of the 74-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who Beijing reviles as a "splittist" intent on breaking away the region of Tibet, the Dalai Lama's homeland, from mainland Chinese rule.

Chinese troops flooded Tibet in the 1950s, with the Dalai Lama fleeing the region in 1959 after a failed uprising. Since then, he has led the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, and advocated for what he calls "genuine autonomy" for Tibet under Chinese rule, not outright independence.

Besides threatening to cancel business deals, China nixed meetings on cross-strait business cooperation and visits by Chinese industry captains and officials, local media said. Ceremonies on the mainland celebrating the recent launching of regularly scheduled non-stop cross-strait flights were also reportedly canceled or scaled back.