TAIPEI - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou will not be meeting the Dalai Lama when the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader visits next week, the president's office said on Saturday, a move aimed at avoiding renewed tensions with China.

The Dalai Lama, branded by Beijing as a separatist, will arrive in Taiwan late on Sunday for about a week to comfort victims of Typhoon Morakot, which triggered the worst floods in about 50 years in the island, mainly in the south.

We did not plan a meeting between the president and the Dalai Lama, said Tony Wang, a presidential office spokesman. The reason why we approved the Dalai Lama's visit was based on religious and humanitarian considerations.

The Dalai Lama's visit, at the invitation of Taiwan's opposition, brings together two of China's most sensitive territorial claims -- the Tibet Autonomous Region and self-ruled Taiwan.

It also comes at a time when ties between China and Taiwan have steadily improved following Ma's assumption of office last year.

Ma would have to tread carefully in order not to irritate Beijing, analysts said.

They (China) will have more trust in Ma in handling the Dalai Lama matter, but they will watch the process closely, Andrew Yang, secretary general of Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei.

China could react negatively if the Dalai uses Taiwan as a stage to promote democracy in Tibet, meets Tibet independence groups or makes any anti-Beijing remarks.

Beijing has lashed out at Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party for inviting the Dalai Lama to Taiwan, but did not blame Ma, indicating that it did not want to escalate the issue.

Officials said the Dalai Lama, who was in Taiwan in 1997 and 2001, will spend most of his time in the south holding prayer sessions with typhoon victims and meeting with religious organizations.

On Friday, China gave the green light to 16 airlines to operate regular direct flights to Taiwan in a sign that the Dalai Lama's impending visit would not harm trade ties.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)