The Dalai Lama, a Tibetan spiritual leader reviled by China as a separatist, arrived in Taiwan on Sunday for a hasty visit to comfort victims of a typhoon, testing the island's improved ties with Beijing.
China opposes the Dalai Lama's trips abroad and condemned Taiwan opposition leaders for inviting him last week to visit until Friday. He will pray for victims of Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan's worst storm in 50 years which killed up to 745 people.
Beijing-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, widely accused of a slow disaster response, allowed the Dalai Lama's visit, a populist move that he declined last year as ties with China were warming quickly after 60 years of hostilities.
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, flew from India to Taiwan's main international airport for a mass prayer and other religious activities in storm-hit southern Taiwan.
"First it's humanitarian," the Dalai Lama, wearing his signature orange robe, told reporters, describing his visit to Taiwan.
He said before departure he had been invited by Taiwan's "people" without political affiliation and planned only to comfort victims of this month's typhoon, Taiwan's Central News Agency reported.
The president's office has said Ma would not meet the Dalai Lama, a move that analysts expect to keep him out of trouble with China amid improvements in trade ties.
There was no word from China on Sunday about the visit. Last week it accused Taiwan's anti-China opposition Democratic Progressive Party of using the disaster rescue as an "excuse" to invite the Dalai Lama and "sabotage" ties with China.
The party lashed back on Sunday.
"Such behaviour of Chinese officials runs contrary to the expectations of the Taiwanese people who anticipate the spiritual compassion and peace that the Dalai Lama represents," the party said in a statement.
The Dalai Lama has visited Taiwan in 1997 and 2001.