News and Views on Tibet

Opinion: Taiwan must stand up for itself

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui in Taipei, Taiwan on March 27, 1997. (Photo courtesy/OHHDL)

By Khedroob Thondup

I first visited Taiwan in 1985, when I was deputed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to start a dialogue with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

I spent three days talking to officials, the end result being the signing of an agreement where the Republic of China (ROC) recognized the right to self-determination of Tibetans.

According to official KMT records in Nanking, Tibet never paid taxes to the ROC government.

In 1997, the Dalai Lama made his first ever visit to Taiwan on the invitation of then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). Lee took the bold step of opening Taiwan’s doors to His Holiness. The visit was most successful and changed the attitude of His Holiness toward Taiwanese.

His Holiness asked me what I thought of his visit and I advised him saying that, as 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 China.

After seeing Taiwan’s robust democracy, His Holiness recognized Taiwanese as a separate entity to Chinese.

Later that year I visited Taipei to start grassroots lobbying for Tibetan issues. On one occasion I met then-Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who was quite upset, as he had not been given an audience with His Holiness during his visit. As mayor, Chen issued an invitation to His Holiness, which His Holiness accepted when Chen was president.

In a breakfast meeting with former American Institute in Taiwan director James Lilley and then-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良), the latter asked Lilley whether he thought China would ever fire missiles toward Taiwan. Lilley turned toward 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 was 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 1990s there were two distinct camps: Mainlanders and local residents. Today this has evolved as young people in Taiwan identify themselves as Taiwanese.

After Typhoon Morakot, which caused 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 (蔡英文) in her first term became the only DPP president not to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama upon his request to visit Taiwan.

After 30 years in Taiwan I admire the way democracy has become vibrant, but I wonder whether Taiwanese have the will to stand up to the People’s Republic of China (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: They have suppressed Tibet, then Hong Kong and are now using strong-arm tactics on Taiwan.

I believe Taiwanese democracy will survive, but Taiwanese have to stand up for themselves first.

(Views expressed are his own)

The author is a former member of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile. 

4 Responses

  1. Taiwan is militarily, geographically and technologically strategic to America. General Douglas McArthur described Taiwan as an unsinkable aircraft carrier! America can’t afford to lose Taiwan to communist China. Through a stroke of luck, Joe Biden won the last election. He immediately went about reconnecting the NATO alliance and renew America’s pivot to Asia which was President Obama’s new strategic thrust in containing communist China. In Europe the estranged NATO countries were once again regrouped and resuscitated after Trump’s disastrous policy of acting like Putin’s poodle to destroy NATO as “obsolete” and alienating the members by chiding them for not “paying up theirs dues”. It was a policy that would have destroyed European security. To the credit of President Joe Biden, he rejuvenated NATO and started stationing American troops in Northern Australia as part of the Asia pivot. He formed the AUKUS, an alliance of the English speaking nations of Australia, UK and US! With this alliance Australia will be equipped with nuclear submarines to deter China in the Indo-Pacific region which is the new flash point in international dispute. Australia has been a staunch ally of the US since Second World War and has fought along the US in every war including Vietnam.
    Japan is another ally of the US and under the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abbey, the alliance has not only got stronger, thanks to Shinzo Abbey but his successor PM Kashida has made big strides in bolstering Japanese defensive capability by spending 2 percent of the national GDP. South Korea has always remained a docile partner of the US without uttering doing anything or saying anything that would offend Beijing but under the new leadership of Yoon Suk Yoel, it has markedly swung towards the US preceded by anti-China rhetoric before the elections. South Korea has angered China for stationing THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile on it’s territory which Beijing see as a threat to itself. THAAD is an American anti-ballistic missile defense system designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missile in their terminal phase by intercepting with a hit-to-kill approach. China has tried its utmost to stop them by punishing the owners of the lands where the missiles were installed. S Korea needs them to protect itself from the missiles fired by North Korea. President Biden also helped to create the Quad, a grouping of four eminent democracies in the Indo-Pacific region. The man who is responsible for this alliance is none other than the indomitable Shinzo Abbey who had a good personnel rapport with all western allies and India’s PM Modi. The Quad is however not as compact as the AUKUS because India is the white elephant which retains the monicker “non-aligned” even though it’s heavily allied to Russia. India doesn’t want to be “allied” not only because of its traditional non-aligned stand but it also doesn’t want to upset the Chinese who regards India being aligned to western powers as a threat to its itself! China doesn’t like anyone ganging up against it. It sees the west as its nemesis who are denying them the place of eminence they so much aspire as a testimony of the greatness of communism and the Chinese Communist Party!
    India is now caught in a bind. It’s reliance on Russia is becoming more uncomfortable as Russia becomes a second fiddle to China who India sees as its most serious threat since the Chinese occupation of Tibet. As it were, India is looking more towards the west with recent signing of cooperation of military technology such as building of F-16 Fighter jets in India. Lockheed Martin and Tata will partner in supporting F-16 Block 70 “Make in India” which is ideally suited to meet the Indian Air Force’s single engine fighter jets. As the Chinese threat increases on the Indo-Tibet border, India will be forced to embrace the west in order to receive military equipment to replenish its arsenal with more modern and superior high tech weapons than than the Russian made ones and also receive diplomatic cover on the international stage. The first sign was the joint military exercise between the US and India last year termed as the 30th anniversary of the Malabar in India’s southwest coast, lying on the narrow coastal plain of Karnataka and Kerala States between the western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. It runs from South of Goa to Cape Comoran on India’s southern tip. Japan has been a permanent partner of the Malabar exercises since 2015 and Australia joined in 2020. India is paranoid of the Indian Ocean being dominated by hostile foreign powers like China. Owing to this reason, India has joined the Quad. It dragged its feet for many years. The induction of seven brigades (9000 troops) of ITBP to the Himalayas demonstrate the trajectory of India- China border dispute which is a festering wound that refuses to heal without settling the Tibet issue!
    Taiwan is not alone in defending itself. Chinese invasion of Taiwan has far reaching consequences to all the nations in Asia and especially East Asia. Taiwan is a peaceful democratic country and threatens no one but if it becomes a Chinese territory, all the countries in Asia will suffer the threat of China like India does after Tibet was illegally occupied. The Japanese island of Okinawa is only 731 kilometers from Taiwan. The Philippines and Vietnam and all the littoral nations of the pacific including the US will be threatened. A Chinese document was found recently that was hatched by the Chinese which purported to show Chinese domination of the Eastern Pacific to project Chinese military power while the western Pacific will be left as a sphere of US influence. This is not acceptable to the US since the US sees itself as a pacific power and any power inimical to it’s interest in the region will not be tolerated. That is why, Biden has said pointedly, again and again, that the US will defend Taiwan!!! Therefore, if the China invades Taiwan, it will have to defend itself initially and throw everything it has to deter the landing of Chinese PLA in its territory. The island is well protected by anti-ship and anti-air raft missile batteries coupled with early warning radar systems and well trained troops. The biggest impediment for the Chinese is, there are not many landing beaches and these are well defended. Taiwan has few beaches suitable for amphibious landing. There will be massive counter-fire from from surrounding high buildings and cliffs overlooking the beaches. Moving of troops and ammunition across the Taiwan strait (79.5 miles) will be a slow process of moving ships which will be mowed down by the Taiwanese anti-ship missiles. The sheer number of troops needed to overwhelm Taiwanese forces along with vast quantities of supplies of ammunition, food, medical supplies, fuel and other equipment could only move through sea. These will be taken down as soon as they start moving towards Taiwan. It is not like Ukraine where Russian tanks rolled right close to the capital Kieve! The weather is another factor. There is a window of opportunity during certain months but otherwise the typhoons wreak havoc on the high seas and is not conducive. While Taiwan throws everything to the large ships carrying troops and weapons that will cost China hundreds and thousands of lives, the US and it’s allies will step in to defend Taiwan. For example, the US has Gaum as one of it’s important military bases to send B52 bombers. It has also stationed troops in Northern Australia who have trained with Australian troops for years for possible war with China. It has already stationed B52 bombers in Australia in preparation for any eventuality. There are US troops stationed in Okinawa in Japan and S Korea. Japan has up graded its military and is one of the best fighting armies in the world. I have met Second World War veterans and they tell me Japanese are great fighters.
    On the other hand, China has never won a war to start with and more importantly, it has never won a sea battle. History, geography, nature and international opinion all seem to conspire against China.

  2. world must support taiwan. If China starts war against Taiwan, will the US send fighter jets? That’s the question. Any support should be strong enough to defeat the enemy, anything less is worthless, as the end result will still be defeat. But before Taiwan, we have to see whether Ukraine wins against russia with help of the West and NATO. If ukraine doesn’t fighter jets to defeat Putin, then Xi Jinping will think, ” Umm, they don’t send fighter jets in ukraine. so they won’t send fighter jets to Taiwan as well in future.”

    whether Taiwan becomes another Tibet or Ukraine depends on how USA responds to ukraine crisis. UKraine is bit like a genea pig for experiment for aggressive countries.

  3. “His Holiness asked me what I thought of his visit and I advised him saying that, as 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 China.”

    I ADVISED him?

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