Perhaps one of the most interesting of the Dalai Lama's post-Nobel events was a tea party held by the Taiwanese government in honor of his being "the first in Chinese history" to win the prestigious peace prize. The modest gathering, in no small way, epitomized the baffling complexity of Sino-Tibetan relations.
This curious relationship has taken on a new dimension as the political grapevine is ripe with speculation on President-elect Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) policy towards the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. Chen has reportedly invited the Tibetan spiritual leader to attend his inaugural celebrations on May 20. Although the Dalai Lama has yet to accept the invitation, Chen should be lauded for his refreshingly far-sighted proposition.
Chen's victory in Taiwan's presidential election offers cause for celebration not only for the Taiwanese, but for all the other victims of Chinese repression for the simple reason that it will strengthen solidarity among the millions of those who have suffered from China's aggression. In fact, one of the most ironic developments in the Asia Pacific region -- the world's fastest growing region -- is the undeterred expansion of China's sphere of influence. Encouraged by the return of Hong Kong and Macau to Chinese rule, Beijing's leaders now cannot wait for Taiwan to unify as well. China's constant intimidation of Taiwan and its relentless crackdown on Tibetans and other minorities in an attempt to heal centuries of what it calls "historical humiliation," coupled with its rising economic clout, has begun casting a pall over its future.
It is little wonder then that the Tibetan government-in-exile was unabashedly pleased at the outcome of Taiwan's presidential election. Chen's triumph, the de facto prime minister of the Tibetan exile government, Sonam Tobgyal, told the Liberty Times, has dealt a "blow" to the Beijing regime. The Tibetan government, he said, will be willing to send representatives to attend the inaugural celebrations.
While the Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan would very likely incur China's wrath, the Taiwanese public has enough reasons to encourage the meeting between these two extraordinary personalities. The Dalai Lama is the most powerful voice of compassion in the violence-torn world and Chen is the newly elected president of the one of the world's most flourishing democracies. Although the Taiwanese are much more fortunate than their Tibetan emigre counterparts, the island is no less isolated internationally.
On a more practical level, Taiwan is still recovering from the shock of last year's devastating earthquake -- which killed more than 2000 people and destroyed nearly 100,000 homes. The Dalai Lama's visit would be a healing relief for the earthquake victims in this predominantly Buddhist country.
The reason his first trip to Taiwan in March of 1997 was such a success and has remained so deeply imprinted in the minds of Taiwanese is because it so effectively reinforced the importance of "compassion" -- the Tibetan leader's single most important message. During his week-long stay, the entire island was filled with the message of "love and compassion," thanks to local media's blanket coverage of his whirlwind trip around Taiwan. Only a person of the Dalai Lama's caliber and charisma would have helped inspire such a sea change. With warm-heartedness fast losing the battle against the desire for economic gain, the Dalai Lama has brilliantly succeeded in redefining the basic idea of goodness.
More perceptive observers would also notice that the Dalai Lama's message has entered the island's political vocabulary. Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has made it a rallying cry of his administration. "My whole policy is to make Taipei City a more compassionate place to live," he has said. It is a sentiment shared by several legislators and members of the city council. The president-elect also tinkered with the idea of a "compassionate society" on more than one occasion during his presidential campaign. Credit must also go to the tireless efforts of local Buddhist leaders such as Master Sheng Yen (聖嚴) of the Dharma Drum Foundation (
Indeed, Taiwanese society is undergoing a massive spiritual and cultural transformation -- with an increasingly large number of people now turning to traditional Chinese-Buddhist value systems to help them find peace amid its fast-track high-tech economy. Not surprisingly, translations of the Dalai Lama's books have become bestsellers in Taiwan.
Such Taiwanese interest in Tibetan religion and culture also sends a strong message to China that Tibetan and Chinese traditions cannot only co-exist peacefully, but have much to learn from each other. Another Tibet-related book, Sogyal Rinpoche's The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, has literally become a household name in Taiwan, selling more than 400,000 copies. Moreover, a leading Taipei publishing house has recently asked for translations of another book by the Dalai Lama, Imagine All the People: A Conversation with the Dalai Lama on Money, Politics, and Life as it Could Be. It is indeed ironic that this Taiwanese enthusiasm for all things Tibetan is, in no small measure, helping revive Tibetan culture and tradition just when the Beijing government seems so adamant on obliterating it. Reliable sources estimate that nearly one third of financial aid to Tibetan monasteries in India come from Taiwanese donors.
At this juncture, Tibetans and Taiwanese should build upon this growing cultural and religious nexus to improve the relations between their two governments. The main reason for the distance between the two has until now been the tension between the Tibetan government-in-exile's promotion of its culture and independence and the KMT's policy of considering Tibet as a part of the Republic of China. Supporters of Taiwanese independence have often sought inspiration from the highly successful pro-Tibet campaign in the West.
During his last visit, the Dalai Lama met with the leaders of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Enraptured by his glowing personality, DPP members afterward made made no secret of their admiration for the Tibetan leader. In the past, the DPP has proposed abolishing the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, a ministry-level body entrusted with forging policy for the republic's provinces of Tibet and Mongolia. Clearly, Chen's challenge at this stage must be to normalize relations with the Tibetan government-in-exile and help them on humanitarian grounds.
Although China is surely seeing red over a possible "summit of the splitists," Chen should nonetheless exercise his statesmanship and boldly welcome the Dalai Lama to this wonderful island and turn his inaugural ceremony into a celebration of humanity.
Tsering Namgyal is a Tibetan writer living in Taipei.
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