On 20 January 2003, the Taiwan government made a long-overdue decision to abolish the Cabinet-level Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, and to replace it by a newly-formed Taiwan-Tibet Exchange Foundation.
The old Commission was a left-over from the Kuomintang-period, when the regime in Taipei still maintained it was the legitimate government of China, and claimed sovereignty over Tibet and Mongolia. The new Foundation is primarily designed to maintain ties with the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India. The foundation will consist of government think-tank members, DPP members and private entrepreneurs familiar with Tibetan affairs.
This editorial appeared in the Taipei Times on 20 January 2003. Reprinted with permission.
The news that the government is to create a Taiwan-Tibet cultural exchange foundation, in a bid to replace the existing Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, marks a step more serious than many people might realize.
Most of our readers will understand it as the ROC's catching up, in part at least, with the reality from which it has woefully averted its eyes for decades. The ROC government has long cherished the fantasy that Mongolia is a part of its sovereign territory despite the fact this vast country has been independent for 80 years or more. But then the ROC government has until recently thought of itself as the government of China and as such it has indirectly supported Beijing's brutal colonialist repression of the Tibetans by upholding China's claim and it doesn't matter here which China to be the lawful sovereign of that sad land.
This is something that has worked to Taiwan's detriment in a number of ways. First, the old KMT govern-ment's nefarious politicking among the various Tibetan exile groups managed to win it the ill will of almost everyone concerned. Taiwan's interest in fomenting unrest among the Tibetans worked directly against the best interests of both the exiles who sooner or later have to reach an accommodation with Beijing, if Beijing is ever enlightened enough to let them do so and the Tibetans still living in Tibet, the justice of whose cause it compromises.
Secondly, if there is one thing that Taiwan must be a steadfast champion of on the international stage, one policy with which it must become clearly identified, it is the right of a people to self-determination, be it Tibetans, Timorese, Kurds or Palestinians. It is absurd to claim to support the cause of the Tibetans while at the same time working to undermine those Tibetans who want self-determination rather than a more enlightened colonial status which had been the previous government's confused policy. And some readers might remember the slap in the face delivered to the Dalai Lama during the arrangements for his visits to Taiwan when it was suggested that it should be the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission that should issue him with an entry permit.
Taiwan's policy on Tibet and Mongolia has ranged from the merely stupid to the genuinely reprehensible. What must now be made clear is that there is a huge difference between what is in the best interests of the de facto sovereign republic that Taiwan now is and the best interests of the "juridical person" of the ROC. What constitutes catching up with reality for Taiwan might seem like a form of defeat for the ROC with its bizarre Constitution containing Article 119 about the nature of the Mongolian banner system and Article 120: "The self government system of Tibet shall be protected."
Sooner or later the obsolescence of the Constitution will become so manifest that Taiwanese might actually work up the courage to sit down and write a new one, as former president Lee Teng-hui has called for. We can only hope that that day is not too long delayed.
For the moment, this small victory for pragmatism can only be a good thing. Taiwan's dissolution of the agencies that uphold the pretensions of the ROC has been painfully slow but it is welcome not simply because it is about time that Taiwan's official policy was more in accord with international realities, making the nation less of a laughing stock, but because, as the dead skin of the ROC is sloughed off, we hope there will emerge the core of a new Taiwanese consciousness. The proposed move is, therefore, not primarily for Mongolians or Tibetans, it is primarily for the people of Taiwan.
In the third week of January 2003, a group of US Congressmen visited Taiwan expressed support for the island, saying that Taiwan's future should be determined by the Taiwanese not by China or the US. The US lawmakers vowed to continue supporting Taiwan saying all democratic countries in the Asia-Pacific region including Taiwan constituted an instrumental alliance for the US.
" The future of Taiwan is an issue to be determined by the people of Taiwan, not by any outside forces or through any sort of hostility or aggressive action," said Representative Steve Chabot, honorary co-chair of the US Congressional Taiwan Caucus. The Caucus is a pro-Taiwan US congressional group formed by 85 members of the House of Representatives and the Senate on 9 April 2002.
Dana Rohrabacher, who also serves as honorary co-chair of the caucus, said any democratic states in the Asia-Pacific region, including Taiwan, were important allies for the US. He added that Taiwan's future "is not up to a group of powerful figures on the mainland, and it's not up to the United States government as well."
"Why would people who live in a democracy want to surrender themselves up to a dictatorial system run by some power-hungry individuals who don't care about human rights?" he said.
Representative Robert Wexler, a third honorary co-chair of the caucus, lauded Taiwan's move to host the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Asia-Pacific Security, saying the exchange of ideas during the seminar would help democracy take root in the region.
Around 65 lawmakers from the US, Canada, France, Japan, Australia, Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, Belarus, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, Portugal, New Zealand, South Korea, Malaysia and India attended the conference at the Grand Hotel. The conference included group discussions on trilateral relations between Taiwan, Japan and the US, free passage through the Taiwan Strait, anti-terrorism, democracy and human rights, and economy and trade.
Back to: Table of Contents
Copyright © 2003 Taiwan Communiqué