China has denounced a proposed visit to Taiwan by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, saying it threatens to "sabotage" improving relations between the two states.
Taiwan, the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing, approved the visit by the Nobel Peace laureate to comfort victims of deadly Typhoon Morakot that struck earlier this month and devastated parts of southern Kaohsiung county.
China said it was "resolutely opposed" to Thursday's visit, in a statement carried by the state-run Xinhua news agency on Thursday.
The Chinese government considers the Dalai Lama a "splittist" for promoting autonomy in Tibet.
Beijing has often reacted angrily to governments which allow the Tibetan leader to visit.
"No matter under what form or identity Dalai uses to enter Taiwan, we resolutely oppose this," China's Taiwan Affairs Bureau said in its statement.
"Some of the people in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) use the disaster rescue excuse to invite Dalai to Taiwan to sabotage the hard-earned positive situation of cross-straits relations," the statement continued.
An aide to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, home to the Tibetan government-in-exile, said the spiritual leader had been keen to visit Taiwan.
Tenzin Taklha said: "We want to make it very clear that the Dalai Lama is visiting Taiwan to express condolences to victims and lead prayers."
More than 400 people were killed after Typhoon Morakot struck Taiwan on August 8 and unleashed floods and mudslides.
China is considered unlikely to retaliate by holding off growing economic ties between the long-time political rivals.
By blaming the opposition DPP, and not Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou or the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT), Beijing may have indicated it does not wish to escalate the issue.
"Beijing will be a little uncomfortable, but if they understand how severe the disaster is they will show some respect to Taiwan's people," said Wu Den-yih, the KMT secretary-general.
Last year, the Dalai Lama said that he wanted to visit Taiwan, but at the time, Ma said the timing was not right for such a visit. Taiwanese Buddhist groups criticised the decision.
But Beijing is also aware any strong moves against the Dalai Lama could play into the hands of Taiwanese opponents of President Ma, who has sought to ease tensions with Beijing.
Taiwan's relations with China have improved under Ma, who has taken a more conciliatory approach than his predecessor. Then-Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian rejected China's assertion that there is only "One China" and Taiwan is an inalienable part of it.
China claims self-governing Taiwan as part of its territory, although the two split amid civil war in 1949.
|China considers the Dalai Lama a "splittist" for promoting Tibetan autonomy [Reuters]
Victor Gao, the director of China's National Association of International Studies, a think-tank affiliated with the Chinese government, told Al Jazeera that the Dalai Lama "continues to play both spiritual and political roles".
He said that while the proposed visit to Taiwan was for spiritual purposes, the Dalai Lama has "been consistently undermining China's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
"We also need to make it known that he himself is a Chinese national, and would be welcomed back if he chose to give up his activities," Gao said.
Over the past 12 years, the Dalai Lama has made three visits to the island which is home to a large exiled Tibetan community and millions of Buddhists.
The Dalai Lama made his first trip to Taiwan in 1997 and visited the island again in 2001, triggering strong condemnation from China.
The Tibetan spiritual leader is due to arrive on August 31 and to stay for four days.