The Chinese government on Thursday expressed its strong disapproval at the Taiwan leadership's surprise decision to extend an invitation to the Dalai Lama to visit the typhoon-affected areas of the island, a move that threatens to derail the recently warming ties between the estranged neighbours.

This week, Taiwan's leader Ma Ying-jeou, who has come under severe criticism for his administration's response to the typhoon Morakot which devastated the island, said the Dalai Lama would be allowed to

visit victims of the typhoon, which claimed at least 600 lives and displaced thousands. While China usually criticises countries that host the Tibetan religious leader, who resides in Dharamsala, this visit is particularly significant as it comes when ties between China and its neighbour have been warming.

Ties between China and Taiwan have historically been strained, but under the leadership of Mr. Ma the relationship has warmed. During his tenure, the commercial relationship between China and Taiwan has grown considerably. Cross-strait flights were launched for the first time last year, and the two neighbours' leaders for the first time in sixty years exchanged direct contact last month.

This made Mr. Ma's decision to invite the Dalai Lama all the more surprising. Analysts said the move suggested that the embattled leader, who has faced calls for his resignation in the wake of Morakot, was looking to stem the tide of public opinion which had left him with a 20 per cent approval rating. Officials in his administration said the visit was organised on "humanitarian and religious" grounds to bring relief to the families of the victims.

The Chinese government said on Thursday it "resolutely opposed" the visit, accusing the Dalai Lama of "attempting to split the country under the pretext of religion." "Obviously this is not for the sake of disaster relief. It's an attempt to sabotage the hard-earned good situation in cross-Strait relations," a spokesperson for the Chinese government's Taiwan Affairs Office said.

Officials in China however blamed Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has in the past criticised Mr. Ma's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) for its China-friendly policies, for organising the visit, and did not directly criticise either Mr. Ma or the KMT.

Keywords: ChinaDalai LamaTaiwanMa

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