Taiwan Blocks Dalai Lama Visit

Taiwanese authorities have refused to provide a visa for the Dalai Lama, who was due to address a women’s organisation there next month. From the AFP:

The Taiwan chapter of the Federation of Business and Professional Women, headed by former vice president Annette Lu, said the move reflected fear of angering China, which sees the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader as a separatist.

“We are angry as the government is obviously worried about China’s reaction. It’s ridiculous that Taiwan has to listen to China and seek its approval before doing anything,” said a spokeswoman for Lu.

[…] Taiwan’s foreign ministry confirmed that they would not allow the visit, but denied China had anything to do with the decision.

“It’s just not a good time,” foreign ministry spokesman Steve Hsia told AFP, declining to elaborate.

A planned visit in 2008 was blocked on similarly vague grounds, though another the following year was allowed to proceed after much deliberation. From Shih Hsiu-chuan at Taipei Times:

“When will it be a proper time for the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan? The timing was not right in 2009 [sic] and the timing is not right now. Do we have to wait until the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is out of power? Is Taiwan still a country that values democracy, human rights and freedom?” Tsai [Huang-liang, a DPP legislator] asked.

The Dalai Lama was able to visit Taiwan, at the invitation of seven DPP mayors and commissioners, one month after Typhoon Morakot devastated southern parts of the country in August 2009, killing about 700 people and causing widespread damage.

Ma called an emergency meeting at the National Security Council to deliberate the case. The meeting lasted five hours before he approved the visit.

Beijing responded by cancelling a number of joint events, despite Taipei’s efforts to explain itself. Heightened tensions amid a long series of self-immolation protests—for which Beijing has blamed the Dalai Lama himself—can only have increased the risk of hurt feelings this time.

China routinely and vigorously protests international visits by the Dalai Lama: embassy officials in London threatened to boycott a pre-Olympic training camp this summer, for example, over a scheduled appearance at a private business conference nearby. Taiwan is not alone in yielding to the pressure. South Africa refused the Dalai Lama a visa to attend Desmond Tutu’s birthday celebration last year, while in June the Italian city of Milan cancelled plans to award him honorary citizenship. On the other hand, Beijing’s protests can add fuel to domestic political demands that leaders do not ”placate Chinese tyrants”.

Closer ties to China have been a hallmark of Kuomintang president Ma Ying-jeou’s administration, but the Economist reported last week that they have somewhat backfired, driving property prices up as Ma’s approval ratings have tumbled:

Ordinary people do not find their livelihoods improving. Salaries have stagnated for a decade. The most visible impact of more open ties with China, which include a free-trade agreement, has been property speculation in anticipation of a flood of mainland money. Housing in former working-class areas on the edge of Taipei, the capital, now costs up to 40 times the average annual wage of $15,400. The number of families below the poverty line has leapt. Labour activists have taken to pelting the presidential office with eggs.

The newspaper referred to Ma as “an ineffectual bumbler”. In response, a KMT legislator told the South China Morning Post that “I feel bad and also sad some foreign media would launch such a criticism against our national leader, but there are some facts in the magazine’s report that President Ma must reflect upon.”