Taiwan - Taiwan has decided to bar the Dalai Lama from entering the island, triggering an angry response from a women's organisation that had invited him to a meeting there in December, officials said on Thursday.
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.
The federation said that they had contacted the Dalai Lama directly and that he had agreed to attend their Asia Pacific regional conference in Taipei in December.
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.
China is highly critical of the Dalai Lama, suspecting him of seeking independence for his Himalayan homeland, even though he says he only wants greater autonomy and religious freedom.
The Dalai Lama had voiced a wish to visit Taiwan in 2008, but at that time, too, the island's government had argued the time was not right.
He did visit Taiwan in 2009 to comfort victims of a deadly typhoon in a trip that was strongly criticised by China and reportedly triggered mass cancellations of mainland tourist groups to the island.
Dalai Lama visits to Taiwan are particularly galling for China, as it still regards the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, even though it has ruled itself since the end of a civil war in 1949.
Ties between Taiwan and China have improved markedly since Ma Ying-Jeou became Taiwan's president in 2008 on a Beijing-friendly platform.