Khedroob Thondup, His Holiness' the Dalai Lama's nephew, writes for India Narrative (Photo: Khedroob Thondup)
I first visited Taiwan in 1985. I was deputed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. My mission was to start a dialogue with the Kuomintang (KMT). I spent three days talking to various officials. The end result was the signing of an agreement where Taiwan recognised the right to self-determination of the Tibetan People. From the past official KMT records in Nanking, Tibet never paid taxes to China. This was my first contact with Taiwan.
In 1997, HH Dalai Lama made his first-ever visit to Taiwan on the invitation of then President Lee Teng Hui. President Lee took the bold step of opening the doors of Taiwan to His Holiness. The visit was most successful and changed the attitude of His Holiness towards the people of Taiwan. I recall His Holiness asking me what I thought of his visit and I pointed out that this was his first-visit ever to a Han territory. It was historical and if he was successful in Taiwan, he would be successful in mainland China. After His Holiness’ visit to Taiwan and after viewing its robust democracy, he recognised the Taiwan people as a separate entity.
“Wonderful to stay in the country..I am a guest of the Indian Govt..I appreciate it”, says Dalai Lama in Delhi as he addresses the Indian Institute of Public Administration. pic.twitter.com/pcoLarCKl7
— Sidhant Sibal (@sidhant) January 21, 2023
Later in 1997, I visited Taipei to start grassroots lobbying for Tibetan issues. On one occasion I met Taipei Mayor Chen Shui Bian who was quite upset as he was not given an audience with His Holiness during his visit. As Mayor he issued an invitation to His Holiness which His Holiness accepted when Chen Shui Bian became the President.
In a breakfast meeting with Ambassador James Lilley, then Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Hsu Shing Liang asked Ambassador Lilley if the Chinese would ever fire their missiles towards Taiwan? Ambassador Lilley turned towards me and said why don’t we ask our Tibetan friend. I retorted by giving the example of the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 where they used modern weapons against us Tibetans. I have always felt the DPP were good in opposition politics but never had any idea of China’s brutal tactics and how to defend Taiwan.
One issue which I found disturbing was national identity. In the nineties there were two distinct camps—the mainlanders and the local residents. Today this has evolved as young people in Taiwan identify themselves as Taiwanese.
After Typhoon Morakot where there was widespread death and destruction His Holiness was invited to Taiwan and the KMT Government issued him a visa on condition he did not make any political statements.
President Tsai Ing Wen, in her first term, was the only DPP President to not issue a visa to His Holiness on his request to visit Taiwan.
After thirty years in Taiwan, I admire the way democracy has become very vibrant. But I always wonder whether the Taiwan people have the will to stand up to the PRC.
One-country two-systems which was started in Tibet and failed in Hong Kong has come and gone. What is now left for the PRC is the use of brute force as they have suppressed Tibet, then Hong Kong and are now using strong arm tactics on Taiwan.
I believe Taiwan democracy will survive but the Taiwan people have to stand up for themselves first.
(Khedroob Thondup is the nephew of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He was sent by the Dalai Lama to Beijing from 1980 till 1993 for talks where he Interacted with senior officials like Xi Zhongxun. Xi Jinping’s father and and former President Hu Jintao. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)