Add Presidential Office spokesman's remarks, background Taipei, Aug. 27 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou said Thursday that his administration has approved a visit to Taiwan by Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to console and pray for the victims of Typhoon Morakot.
Ma made the announcement during an inspection tour of the disaster areas in Nantou County.
The invitation for the exiled Tibetan leader to visit Taiwan was issued by the chiefs of seven Democratic Progressive Party-controlled localities in southern Taiwan that were hit hard by the storm.
The visit is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 31 to Sept. 4.
According to Presidential Office spokesman Wang Yu-chi, the government's decision to authorize the visit was based on religious and humanitarian considerations.
"We think this matter should not damage relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait," Wang said.
On whether Ma will meet with the Dalai Lama during his stay in Taiwan, Wang said this will remain a hypothetical question until the Tibetan spiritual leader officially files an application for the visit.
Wang said the Dalai Lama had written to Ma in the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot to convey his concern over the disaster, and Ma replied Aug. 24 to express his appreciation.
The Dalai Lama first visited Taiwan in 1997 and again in 2001.
In 2002, however, the Dalai Lama turned down Taiwan's invitation for a third visit, saying that it was an inconvenient time. The Tibetan government in exile was holding talks with Beijing at the time.
The Dalai Lama indicated his desire to visit Taiwan in June 2008, soon after the inauguration of President Ma, but the proposal was turned down by Ma on the grounds that it was an inappropriate time.
It was widely believed that Ma did so to try to avoid blotching Taiwan's warming ties with China.
Commenting on the issue Thursday, Legislative Yuan speaker Wang Jin-pyng said the Dalai Lama's upcoming visit will be religious in nature and that he believes Beijing will view the matter from a humanitarian perspective, which will help minimize any possible political fallout.
Also, Wang said he believes the Dalai Lama will comply with Taiwan's request to avoid any political activities while in Taiwan, so as not to cause any misunderstanding between Taipei and Beijing.
Typhoon Morakot, which battered the country Aug. 7-9, triggered the worst flooding in 50 years, devastating much of southern Taiwan.
As of Tuesday, confirmed fatalities from the disaster had reached 461, with 192 others reported missing and 46 injured, according to the Central Emergency Operation Center.
A national mourning ceremony will be held Sept. 7 in Kaohsiung for the dead.
(By Y.F. Low)