The Dalai Lama arrived in Taiwan late Sunday night, saying he was eager to give comfort to victims of Typhoon Morakot. Before his arrival, the Tibetan spiritual leader promised not to raise political issues, saying he had been invited and it was his responsibility to comfort those suffering from tragedy.
Hundreds of supporters and protesters swarmed around the Dalai Lama when he arrived at the Taoyuan train station, his departure point for the typhoon-devasted south. Some applauded, while others shouted, "Dalai Lama, go home!"
Before his arrival in Taiwan, the Dalai Lama promised he would avoid engaging in political activities. He even canceled a press conference scheduled for Monday in the southern city of Kaohsiung, saying he wanted to spend more time with the victims of landslides in two isolated mountain villages.
But once at the train station, the Dalai Lama held in an impromptu press conference during which he rebutted Chinese accusations that he is political separatist. Beijing has opposed the Dalai Lama's trip to Taiwan, claiming that he is not a purely religious figure.
"As far as Tibet is concerned, we are not seeking independence, we are not seeking separation," said the Dalai Lama. "We are fully committed to staying within the People's Republic of China."
The Dalai Lama added that he supports Taiwan's efforts to build closer relations with the mainland.
President Ma Ying-jeou has based his presidency on building better trade and economic ties with the mainland. In December, Mr. Ma said it was not the right time to invite the Dalai Lama, crushing the hopes of many members of Taiwan's large Tibetan community in exile.
But in the weeks since Typhoon Morakot, Mr. Ma's public approval ratings have tumbled to below 20 percent. Many Taiwanese view the government's response to the disaster as having been slow and disorganized. Last Thursday, opposition party mayors and magistrates announced that they had invited the Dalai Lama to Taiwan to comfort victims of the storm. Many analysts agree that given his political weakness, Mr. Ma had no choice but to agree to the spiritual leader's visit.
On Sunday, Wu Poh-shiung, the Chairman of Mr. Ma's ruling KMT Party, expressed confidence that the Dalai Lama would not engage in political activities during his visit, despite the Dalai Lama's history of speaking out against Chinese policy during trips abroad.
"[T]he Dalai Lama understands politics better than anyone," Wu said. He added that the Dali Lama "is a kind person who really wants to help instead of creating trouble for us."
On Monday, the Dalai Lama plans to visit victims in the villages of Hsaio Lin and Lin-bian. More than 600 people are estimated to have died in the typhoon and resulting landslides. Mr. Ma, however, says he will not meet with the Dalai Lama during his visit.