Fri, Dec 12, 2008 - Page 8 News List

No reason to postpone visit from Dalai Lama

By Chen Tsu-hui 陳祖輝

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) recently said that based on the overall national interest, a visit by the Dalai Lama would not be appropriate at this time — a comment that has disappointed many people. Since the Presidential Office has failed to give a concrete answer on what impact a visit might have on the national interest, Ma’s comment has fueled a great deal of speculation.

From the perspective of many Taiwanese, a visit by the Tibetan spiritual leader would not only serve to promote Taiwan’s international visibility but also promote the nation’s democracy and human rights. Several leading countries in the West, such as the US, France and Germany, have invited the Dalai Lama to visit, while the Taiwanese government chooses to remain ambiguous.

Perhaps the only rationale for the government’s stance that a visit would be inappropriate at this time is that it recently signed four cross-strait agreements with China and does not want to jeopardize the cooperative atmosphere. Apart from this, however, there really doesn’t seem to be a convincing argument.

But the government should understand that Taiwan’s biggest advantage in the cross-strait relationship is its democracy and human rights. The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is a religious leader who is highly respected in the West.

Since the Ma administration found it appropriate to receive Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), why can’t it also receive the Dalai Lama? The government will have a hard time convincing the public that there is a rational explanation for this contradictory treatment.

In addition, the government mobilized a large police force to protect Chen, which came at a considerable social cost. Such a broad display of force would not be necessary for a visit by the Dalai Lama since most Taiwanese value religious freedom and human rights. If the Dalai Lama were to come here to lecture, he might be able to heal the wounds caused by recent domestic tension.

It seems that Ma’s top aides may have misjudged the situation if they believe that China would punish Taiwan were it to allow the Tibetan spiritual leader to visit. This view is based on two assumptions.

First, if China were to punish Taiwan for allowing such a visit, it might damage Beijing’s efforts to actively lure Taiwanese support. If cross-strait tensions were to escalate, it would become a problem just as Chinese Communist Party’s internal evaluations have predicted.

Second, if China were to punish Taiwan, the party might then have to worry whether such punishment would further agitate Taiwanese support for Tibetan independence.

Ma’s mishandling of the situation must come as a relief to Beijing. It is a result of his lack of political judgment, and the public does not recognize or support his decision. After all, a visit by the Dalai Lama would benefit the national interest.

Chen Tsu-hui is a part-time lecturer in the Department of Social Work at National Taipei University.


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