by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Artemas Liu/WikiCommons/CC

THE ISSUE OF whether the Tsai administration will allow a visit by the Dalai Lama to Taiwan has again become a political issue, following the reformation of the Taiwan Parliament Group for Tibet and statements by the Dalai Lama that he would like to visit Taiwan. Although the group existed in the past, it has been restarted by independent legislator Freddy Lim for the new legislative session. The Taiwan Parliament Group for Tibet has called on the Tsai administration to invite the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan.

The group consists of forty-six legislators. Among the legislators represented at the press conference held announcing the restart of the Taiwan Parliament Group are Fan Yun, formerly of the SDP and currently a DPP legislator, NPP chair Handy Chiu, and Chen Po-wei of the TSP. Along with Lim, the key members of the group are drawn from Taiwanese civil society activism and current or former members of the “Third Force” parties that emerged in the wake of the 2014 Sunflower Movement.

Freddy Lim during the press conference announcing the reformation of the Taiwan Parliament Group for Tibet. Photo credit: Freddy Lim/Facebook

The DPP, NPP, SDP, and TSP were the political parties present at commemorations for Tibetan Uprising Day earlier this year. During the annual march, politicians were critical of the KMT for seeking to advance the notion of signing a peace treaty between Taiwan and China in a manner that could erode Taiwan’s democratic freedoms, and of Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je for making light of Tibetan self-immolations in public comments. Present also at the press conference as the Central Tibetan Administration’s representative was Dawa Tsering, who has had close ties to Taiwanese civil society groups for years, and who is a community leader among Taiwan’s Tibetan community. 

Lim’s advocacy for Tibet is well-known, with Lim notably having a mural of the Dalai Lama in his legislative office. Lim originally rose to prominence as frontman of symphonic death metal band Chthonic, which has had songs that address Tibet’s plight in the past, and his advocacy for Tibet continued when he served as president of Amnesty International Taiwan.

In particular, Lim launched a petition to call on the Taiwanese government to invite the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan during commemorations for the 60th anniversary of Tibetan Uprising Day in March 2019. In public comments, Lim stated that he believed Taiwan should make it convenient for the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan, if he so decides to do so.

It is, in fact, somewhat unusual that the Dalai Lama has not visited Taiwan during the Tsai administration. The Dalai Lama visited Taiwan in 1997, 2001, and 2009, making Tsai the only democratically elected president in Taiwanese history to have not accepted a visit from the Dalai Lama. Even Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT accepted a visit from the Dalai in 2009, after initially refusing to allow the Dalai Lama to visit in 2008. Tsai met with the Dalai Lama during his 2009 visit, though Tsai has refrained from widely publicizing the fact that she had met with him. Deep Green media has alleged that Tsai turned down a visit from the Dalai Lama in the past, though such reporting was criticized as poorly sourced.

It is probable that Tsai fears reprisals from the Chinese government for allowing a Dalai Lama visit or that a Dalai Lama visit would be seen as a dangerously provocative move for cross-strait relations. At the same time, having successfully secured a second term in January and with increased international attention focused on Taiwan for having successfully fought off the COVID-19 pandemic, hosting a visit by the Dalai Lama could be a way to further highlight international bullying of Taiwan by China at present, and could potentially be touted as a diplomatic achievement for the Tsai administration.

The Dalai Lama. Photo credit: *christopher*/Flickr/CC

During a video stream for his birthday with Taiwanese supporters earlier this month, the Dalai Lama stated that his birthday wish this year was to be able to visit Taiwan, provided Taiwan sees it as appropriate if he were to do so. The Dalai Lama turned 85th on July 6th. However, if the Dalai Lama were to visit Taiwan in the immediate future, he would be traveling during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and would likely be subject to a fourteen-day quarantine once he arrived in Taiwan. It is a question as to whether the Dalai Lama would place such priority on traveling to Taiwan as to undergo a fourteen-day quarantine.

For its part, the Tsai administration has stated that it has not yet received an application from the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan. Although it still seems unlikely that the Tsai administration will issue an open invitation for the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan, compared to past years it seems more willing to allow for a Dalai Lama visit at present.

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