Established in January and inaugurated in April, the quasi-official Taiwan-Tibet Exchange Foundation is the secondary agency to deal with Tibetan business in addition to the Cabinet’s Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission. `Taipei Times’ staff reporter Ko Shu-ling recently talked with foundation Secretary-General Joseph Wu, who is also deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office, to learn more about the the foundation’s missions and the thorny and contentious issue of Tibet’s national standing
By Ko Shu-ling
Taipei Times: What need is there to establish the Taiwan-Tibet Exchange Foundation when there is already an official organ, the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission?
Joseph Wu (吳釗燮): The Tibetan government-in-exile has lost its trust in the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, which views Tibet as part of China under the ROC on Taiwan.
It is one of the main reasons why the commission’s many efforts don’t receive much appreciation from the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India, although the commission has earmarked humanitarian aid and other assistance to the Tibetan government-in-exile annually.
It is the same unrealistic political mentality that prevents the commission from implementing many other of its well-intended initiatives.
Since the DPP government came to power in 2000, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has been trying to figure out a way to solve this long-standing problem. That’s why the quasi-official foundation was set up in January.
Its mission is to augment ties between Taiwan and the Tibet government-in-exile. It also serves as the counterpart to the Tibet Religious Foundation of the Dalai Lama, which has operated in Taipei since 1997 as the representative office of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
TT: Although the foundation claims to be a non-governmental organization, it has a conspicuous public tinge because, for example, you are the deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office. Exactly what role does the government play in the foundation?
Wu: I myself would like to see the foundation as a quasi-official institution because it receives part of its financial support from the private sector and the rest from the government.
As you can see in its structure, Day Sheng-tong (戴勝通), chairman of the National Association of Small and Medium-Size Enterprises, is the foundation chairman. DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) serves as vice chairwoman and I’m secretary-general.
It’s similar to the Straits Exchange Foundation, which was set up because China refuses to recognize and negotiate with the Mainland Affairs Council.
TT: Will the foundation eventually take over the role of the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, which would be abolished in the downsizing plan of the Organic Law of the Executive Yuan (行政院組織法), which is awaiting final approval of the legislature?
Wu: I’d say the foundation will serve as an interim agency after the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission is abolished and before all of the commission’s Tibet-related businesses are transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It’s like the Taiwan Mongolia Exchange Foundation, which still exists after the visa business of the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission was transferred to the foreign ministry in February last year.
If you ask me about the planned abolition of the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, I think it makes perfect sense because the organization is not recognized by the Tibetan government-in-exile and has a historic burden.
TT: What are some of the accomplishments of the foundation since its establishment in January?
Wu: We’re glad that the Tibetan Freedom Concert, which drew about 7,000 people, was very successful and the relations and interactions with the Tibet Religious Foundation of the Dalai Lama in Taipei are close and positive.
Another achievement, which we’d like to keep a low profile, is the direct and constant contact with the government-in-exile in Dharmsala. Actually, we’ve sent a delegation to the Tibetan government-in-exile to meet with their high-ranking officials, including the Dalai Lama.
In addition to inviting the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan again, we signed an agreement to provide his government with medical and agricultural assistance.
TT: What are the odds of the Dalai Lama’s third visit following his first visit in 1997 and second visit in 2001?
Wu: The odds for the Dalai Lama to visit this year are slim. One of the main reasons is that they’d like to tone down His Holiness’ visits here because the Dalai Lama sent two envoys to China for negotiations last September and everything seemed to go well.
They’ve told us that they’d really hate to see the harmonious relationship between China and the Tibetan government-in-exile to be sabotaged by any variable, and we totally respect and understand their concern.
TT: The Dalai Lama’s first visit here was branded by the Chinese authorities as an “alignment of Taiwan and Tibetan independence” agendas and his second visit took place after the DPP took office. Do you think the transfer of power serves as a catalysis in His Holiness’ visits here or the other way around?
Wu: The DPP’s coming to power definitely is conducive to the amelioration of the Taiwan-Tibet relationship because the DPP-led government has forsaken the obsolete KMT thinking that Tibet is governed by the ROC and part of China.
On the day of the foundation’s establishment in January, President Chen made a shocking announcement that previous presidents dared to say. That is “Tibetans are not Chinese.” This historic statement not only moved the souls of many Tibetans but also encouraged the Dalai Lama to compliment the president as “courageous.”
So, yes, the interaction between the DPP-led government and the government-in-exile has been on good terms since the transfer of power and we hope it’ll become better in the future.
TT: Tibet is no longer considered part of China but instead as a foreign country after the legislature passed the draft amendments to the Statute Governing the Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例) in February last year. That definition, however, is different from the Dalai Lama’s ideal situation.
Wu: Yes, indeed. However, the amendments focus more on the fact that the ROC no longer governs Tibet and Mongolia than on the fact that Tibet is not part of China.
The government’s stance on the Tibet issue is clear. We totally respect and support the Dalai Lama’s peaceful way of pursuing a high degree of autonomy in Tibet. Any military, political or societal means to suppress, abuse or discriminate the Tibetan people shouldn’t be allowed.
TT: Last year was considered an important year for the Tibet government-in-exile because the Dalai Lama sent two envoys to Beijing in September and held negotiations on the Tibet issue went well. The Dalai Lama has also said that the best way to solve the Tibet problem is to sit down and talk. Do you think the Dalai Lama is overly optimistic about the Tibetan issue or that the Chinese government will eventually make substantial concessions in this regard?
Wu: I doubt that the Chinese government will make substantial concession in the thorny and controversial Tibetan issue. Although talking may help on the negotiation table, I don’t think China has any sincerity in solving the Tibetan problem.
However, we can empathize with the dilemma the Dalai Lama is facing. On the one hand, we hope that the negotiations would actually produce positive results. On the other hand, it’s highly unlikely that China will give in.
TT: The Dalai Lama has made it clear that he is pursuing autonomy, not independence. In other words, he does not mind that Tibet being a part of China but the premise is that Tibetans have to enjoy a high degree of autonomy. His ideal, however, has not yet received any substantial response from China. What do you think is the biggest hurdle to solve the Tibetan problem and what is China afraid of?
Wu: The Tibet problem is similar to the Taiwan problem, with several differences. One of the similarities is if Tibet was allowed a high degree of autonomy, the Chinese government would risk itself in losing its grip on the area, which has fallen under its tight control.
I don’t think it’d be happy to release its military and political grip of the area. Besides, from the viewpoint of military strategy, China needs Tibet to serve as the buffer zone between itself and India.