Thu, Dec 04, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Dalai Lama not welcome to visit: Ma

NEW TUNE The comments were a departure from the president’s statement the day after his election that the Tibetan spiritual leader would be welcome to visit

By Richard Hazeldine  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday that the Dalai Lama is not welcome to visit Taiwan.

Ma, attending a presidential briefing held by the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents Club in Taipei, was asked how he would respond to the Tibetan spiritual leader’s Nov. 28 comments to Elta TV in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala that he would like to visit Taiwan next year.

“We generally welcome religious leaders from all over the world to visit Taiwan, but I think at the current moment the timing isn’t appropriate,” he said.

The comments mark a distinct change of attitude for the president, who on March 23 said he welcomed the Tibetan spiritual leader to visit the nation following his inauguration.

Quizzed about the recent resignation of Financial Supervisory Commission Chairman Gordon Chen (陳樹) and whether it signaled more Cabinet personnel changes to come, Ma at first declined to comment, but later said “there were no plans for a reshuffle before the end of the year.”

On cross-strait issues, Ma said the results of his push to increase the number of Chinese visitors to 3,000 per day had not been very positive, but that he hoped the deal to increase flights inked during Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) recent visit and China’s changes to policy regarding travel to Taiwan would help.

He also said some protesters had been “wrongfully hit by the police” during demonstrations against Chen’s visit, but defended their actions by saying that more police than protesters had been injured.

Ma drew a laugh from the audience when, asked what he thought about China blocking Radio Taiwan International’s broadcast of an interview he did earlier in the day, he replied “that has happened for six decades.”

Ma said that so far there had been no concessions from China on Taiwan’s bid for entry to the World Health Assembly (WHA), but that the next few months ahead of the next WHA meeting in May would be crucial.

On defense, Ma denied that the military had changed its “offshore engagement” strategy — the idea that China’s military forces would be engaged in the Taiwan Strait — in the event of a cross-strait war.

He said the nation’s defense philosophy was aimed at deterring China from starting a “preliminary war” in the belief that an all out initial assault would bring about a quick end.

Talking about the prospect of a pardon for former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who is in detention on suspicion of embezzlement, forgery, money laundering and accepting bribes, Ma said that “no such action could be taken” until a final verdict had been delivered in the case.

“He has not been indicted yet, so I think it’s really premature to talk about a special pardon,” he said.

Commenting on Ma’s statement on the Dalai Lama, Dawa Tsering, the spiritual leader’s representative in Taiwan, told the Taipei Times by telephone: “The Dalai Lama knows very well that China would put pressure on governments urging them not to allow his visit, so he has always stressed that he would not insist on visiting a country if his visit would make trouble for the country.”

“I understand that President Ma must have his own considerations,” he said, saying that while the Dalai Lama was interested in visiting again, “his schedule is packed for the next six months — so it would be impossible for him to come to Taiwan any time soon anyway.”

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