The Dalai Lama reiterated the religious purpose of his trip prior to his arrival in Taiwan last night following an invitation from the heads of seven southern Taiwan cities and counties to host Dharma sermons for victims of Typhoon Morakot, which killed hundreds of people.
The visit marks the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader’s third trip to Taiwan. He first visited Taiwan in 1997 and again in 2001.
Upon arrival at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, the Dalai Lama was to immediately board a high-speed train for Kaohsiung. As the Dalai Lama and his staff were scheduled to arrive after the high-speed railway’s last train from Taipei departed at 10:12pm, the Tibet Religious Foundation of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, the de facto representative office of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Taiwan, applied for a special train service, which was paid for by the foundation.
Prior to his departure for Taiwan from New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport, the Dalai Lama issued a three-point statement, reiterating that his trip had nothing to do with politics or any political group.
Stressing that the main purpose of his visit was to console surviving victims of Morakot and release the souls of those killed in the disaster from their suffering, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner said he had not considered anything other than praying for blessings and well-being for Taiwanese.
More than 200 people, including members from the Taiwan Friends of Tibet, Taiwan Tibetan Welfare Association and Guts United, Taiwan, gathered at the airport to welcome the Tibetan spiritual leader.
According to an itinerary originally publicized by the Kaohsiung City Government, the Dalai Lama’s public activities would start with an international press conference today in Kaohsiung before setting out for the typhoon-affected area, including Kaohsiung County’s Jiasian (甲仙) and Meinong (美濃) townships.
However, the Tibet Religious Foundation of His Holiness The Dalai Lama yesterday afternoon said the press conference had been canceled, even though reporters from some 130 local and foreign news organizations had signed up to cover it.
Tsegyam Ngaba, secretary-general to the Dalai Lama’s Office, said the press conference was canceled because Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) had “strongly” suggested that the Dalai Lama spend more time visiting disaster areas.
While Chen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) denied she had asked the foundation to cancel the media conference, saying she and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) had merely exchanged opinions on whether the Dalai Lama should visit typhoon victims or hold the press conference first, Wang said he had suggested to Chen canceling the press conference to avoid politicizing the visit.
Wang said he made the suggestion in a bid to keep the Tibetan spiritual leader’s visit simple as the media was bound to ask “sensitive questions” at the press conference.
“This is a simple religious visit. There would not be any problem if you [reporters] refrain from raising political questions [at the press conference], but it is impossible for you [reporters] to do so,” Wang told reporters on his way to a religious ceremony in Taipei.
But Wang dismissed media speculation that he was afraid the Dalai Lama’s visit might upset China.
“Since this has been defined as a religious visit, we should keep it that way and prevent things from getting out of control,” he said.
China has long vilified the Dalai Lama for what it says are his attempts to fight for independence in Tibet. Beijing has said it “resolutely opposes” the Taiwan visit “in whatever form and capacity.” But it blamed the DPP, not President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), for the invitation.
The invitation put Ma in a bind — either risk angering China or give further ammunition to his critics, who have been slamming him and his administration for weeks for their botched typhoon relief efforts.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) said yesterday that he believed the Dalai Lama chose to visit Taiwan to help the nation, rather than “make more trouble for Taiwan.”
“I believe the Dalai Lama has enough wisdom to tell whether the purpose of his visit is religious or political. He should know [his purpose] better than anyone else,” Wu said while attending a prayer ceremony held by local Tibetan Buddhist groups for Morakot victims.
Aside from visiting some of the worst-hit disaster zones, the Dalai Lama will hold a religious service for Morakot victims beginning at 9:30am tomorrow at the Kaohsiung Arena and deliver a speech at the arena at 2pm. Admission to both events is free and both are open to the public.
On Wednesday, the Dalai Lama will meet Catholic Cardinal Paul Shan (單國璽) before leaving Kaohsiung for another speech at the Taoyuan County Stadium (also known as the Taoyuan Arena) on Thursday — which will also be open to the public — before returning to India on Friday morning.
In related news, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday dismissed concerns that China’s denouncement of the Dalai Lama’s visit of would affect China’s participation in the Deaflympics, which will begin on Saturday.
Hau said the Taipei City Government would make a public announcement on the arrival time of Chinese team once the schedule is confirmed.
As to whether the Chinese team would participate in the opening ceremony of the games on Saturday, Hau said the city government is still negotiating with China on the issue.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LOA IOK-SIN AND SHELLEY SHAN
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