Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama looks on during a gathering of Nobel laureates in Gdansk, Poland, Friday, Dec. 5, 2008. Poland is marking the 25th anniversary of former president Lech Walesa's Nobel Peace Prize with two days of observances bringing together other laureates including the Dalai Lama, and some top European politicians. (AP Photo/file)
President Ma Ying-jeou of the restored Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government told foreign reporters last Wednesday that "the timing is inappropriate" for a visit to Taiwan by the Tibetan exiled leader Dalai Lama, evidently out of fear of offending the authoritarian People's Republic of China.
Although Ma later backtracked from this statement in the wake of protests from Taiwan's human rights community, objections from KMT Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng and the decision by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party to issue their own invitation to the Dalai Lama, Ma's comment again revealed Ma's lack of political wisdom and moral courage that are essential qualities for a national leader of a democratic country.
We would not be terribly surprised if leaders of other "political entities" in Asia, such as Hong Kong or Singapore, made such a statement, but what was stunning was that it came out of the mouth of a president elected by the 23 million people (or, more precisely. 7.66 million of about 13 million citizens who voted March 22) of Taiwan.
Moreover, what is worrying is the possibility that this statement was proposed by the Ma government's national security team.
What is most worrying is the possibility that Beijing told the KMT government (perhaps through the Chinese Communist Party-KMT forum) to take this position and the Ma administration did not dare to challenge this edict.
This possibility cannot be excluded, especially in the wake of Ma's last minute nomination of KMT honorary chairman Lien Chan to represent the Taiwan leader at last month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Lima, Peru instead of former Control Yuan president and ex-foreign minister Frederick Chien, reportedly at Beijing's behest.
This succession of events hints that the People's Republic of China authorities can already go through underground channels or other paths to tell Ma what he is permitted and not permitted to do, just as Washington instructed him how to behave during his August transit stops through Los Angeles and San Francisco.
If so, we do not have to wait for any "peace agreement"; Taiwan has already become, or at least is already acting as, a colony of the PRC with a status lower than that of the special administrative zones of Hong Kong and Macao.
We should recall that, during his eight years as Taipei City mayor, Ma had previously invited the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan and that he reaffirmed such an invitation during the last days of the presidential election campaign.
However, after taking office May 20, Ma changed course to both narrowly define the Dalai Lama as a "religious leader" and to openly retract his previous commitment and declare to the international community that it is "not appropriate" for this "religious leader" to visit Taiwan. We can omit the caveat "at this time," since there are no signs that the visit of a "religious leader" would cause social instability or other problems in Taiwan and because the entire world knows that Beijing openly opposes any meeting by national leaders of any country with the Dalai Lama because of his political, not religious, leadership.
Where policy is made
We can contrast Ma's behavior with that of conservative French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who defied intense protests by the PRC and met with the Dalai Lama Saturday under the sensible political logic that France's diplomatic policies are made in Paris and not in Beijing.
Ma's opposition to a visit by the exiled Tibetan leader also contrasts starkly with the actions of former Taiwan presidents Lee Teng-hui, who received the Dalai Lama at the official Taipei Guest House, and Chen Shui-bian, who received the Nobel Peace Prize winner directly in the Office of the President.
Besides the possibilities that Ma suffers from a "bipolar" or split personality or that Taiwan is no longer a free and democratic state, it is difficult to discern any political logic behind his actions.
We should also not forget that Beijing has again used repressive force against Tibetans and that its actions sparked a wave of global protests and that, a recent meeting of worldwide Tibetan exile groups reaffirmed their resolve to adopt a moderate strategy of peace and non-violence in response to the PRC's use of state violence.
Were it not for the spiritual call by the Dalai Lama, it is possible that activists in the world Tibetan community may have arrived at a different decision.
In our view, in the current global situation, any time should be "appropriate" for either Ma or Taiwan to receive a visit by the Dalai Lama and we urge the KMT government not to interfere with the DPP's invitation, which is beneficial for the long - term interests of Taiwan's people and the maintenance of our freedom and democracy.
Taiwan citizens can express their support for the Tibetan people and a visit by their exiled leader by attending a "Tibet Freedom Concert in Taipei" on Wednesday at the Da An Forest Park, Taipei to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.