The Presidential Office yesterday approved a visit by the Dalai Lama to Taiwan, stressing that his trip would be purely religious and would not affect cross-strait ties.
A staffer from Taiwan's representative office in India, where the Tibetan spiritual leader resides, said that the Dalai Lama had already received a visa and would arrive in Taiwan on a China Airlines flight on Sunday and leave next Friday.
The secretary-general of the Dalai Lama's office will arrive in Taiwan today to make arrangements for the trip.
China has denounced the visit.
“No matter under what form or identity the Dalai Lama uses to enter Taiwan, we resolutely oppose this,” Xinhua news agency quoted the Taiwan Affairs Office as saying.
The invitation was extended by the chiefs of seven local governments in southern Taiwan in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, who hope the Dalai Lama's visit would console victims in the hard-hit areas.
The Tibetan government-in-exile confirmed on Wednesday that the Dalai Lama had accepted the invitation.
Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) told a press conference yesterday morning that the government's decision to authorize the visit was based on religious and humanitarian considerations.
Wang said the position of President Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) administration on the matter was clear — that it welcomes visits by world religious leaders to engage in religious activities.
“We welcome the Dalai Lama to come to Taiwan to perform religious rituals for the typhoon victims,” Wang said.
“We think this will not damage relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait,” he said.
Ma rejected a proposed trip by the Dalai Lama last December. Ma said then that the timing was “inappropriate” for a visit.
During an inspection of Nantou County's Sinyi Township (信義) yesterday morning, Ma confirmed that the government had approved the visit.
While the Presidential Office did not make the final decision until 11pm on Wednesday, Wang said officials spent hours to “understand” and “evaluate” the situation, adding that the decision had nothing to do with Beijing.
As to whether Ma would meet the Nobel Peace laureate, Wang said it was a “hypothetical” question and the Presidential Office would not deal with it until the Dalai Lama made an official request.
As to what status the government would grant the Dalai Lama, Wang said it was a “technical” question that the administration would not worry about now, adding that there were precedents to follow.
When the Dalai Lama first visited Taiwan in 1997, the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government considered him “an overseas Republic of China national without a household registration” and granted him an “entry permit issued by the Bureau of Immigration.
For the Dalai Lama's second visit in 2001, he was recognized by the then-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government as a “foreign national” and was allowed to use his Identity Certificate — a travel document that the Indian government issues to Tibetans living in exile in the country — to obtain a visa to enter Taiwan.
The Dalai Lama has written to Ma in the aftermath of Morakot to express concern over the disaster.
Wang yesterday first said he did not think the president had written back but later said Ma had replied on Monday in his capacity as president.
Wang did not answer whether the Ma administration would allow the Dalai Lama to visit the north or participate in non-religious activities, only reiterating that the government welcomed him to engage in religious activities.