TAIPEI, Taiwan, 31 July 2020
In 1997 President Lee Teng-hui took the bold initiative of inviting the the Dalai Lama to Taiwan as a State Guest for the first time in history. His foresight allowed the Taiwanese people to be exposed to the Tibetan leader, who ever since has earned the respect as a great Buddhist teacher. The passing away of President Lee Teng-hui is a true loss for the Tibetan people as he was a strong supporter.
Prior to the visit much dialogue had taken place. One of the talking points was that we would not have anything to do with the Mongolian Tibetan Affairs Commission (MTAC) which was a sticking point in our relations, and we had discussed the closure of this office as it had become irrelevant. In due course the MTAC role was diminished and later merged with the Culture Ministry of Taiwan. His Holiness was allowed entry not only as a religious but also as a political leader. One direct result of the visit was the setting up of the official Dalai Lama Religious and Cultural Foundation in Taipei. Scores of Tibetans who had entered Taiwan on different passports were offered residency.
A few days before I was asked what I thought of His Holiness’ visits to Taiwan. I expressed my opinion that this was a historic visit as His Holiness would be visiting a Taiwanese territory, and if successful could be the springboard to visiting China. The visit was extremely well received by both the government and people of Taiwan. And as I know the Dalai Lama’s visit left a changed view that Taiwan was not part of China, but was a separate entity.
In the Tibetan dialogue with Beijing, China insisted that His Holiness recognize Taiwan as part of China. This was a precondition Beijing concurred would lead to future talks. After visiting Taiwan His Holiness, seeing the vibrant democracy and making many friends, found it difficult to declare Taiwan as part of China. In 2001, President Chen Shui-bian invited His Holiness to Taiwan for a second visit, and started a Taiwan-Tibet Foundation to deal directly with the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. In 2009, President Ma Ying-jeou allowed His Holiness to visit as a religious leader.
Recently His Holiness has expressed a desire to visit Taiwan as a religious leader as he has a large following in Taiwan and thousands of Taiwanese visit Dharamshala every year. Even though Taiwan has made statements welcoming His Holiness visit in the last ten years, His Holiness has not been able to visit as recent Taiwan Governments have become sensitive to China’s hardline position and not been able to lead an independent view as earlier Presidents have held. Taiwan has more to gain by allowing His Holiness to visit as a religious leader.
About the author
Khedroob Thondup is the son of Gyalo Thondup, the elder brother of the Dalai Lama. Educated at St. Stephens College Delhi University and the University of San Francisco. Was a personal assistant to the Dalai Lama and accompanied him on his first trip in 1979 to the U.S. Sent by the Dalai Lama to Beijing from 1980 till 1993 in dialogue talks. Interacted with Xi Zhongxun and Hu Jintao. Served as Member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile for three terms. President of the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre Darjeeling since 1987. Edited two books, Dalai Lama My Son and Tibet in Turmoil. Presently living in Taipei.
More articles by Khedroob Thondup on Tibet Sun.