|The invitation of Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to the Dalai Lama represented the latest challenge to the government of President Ma Ying-jeou, whose popularity had been slumping since his election by a large margin last March. Ma's approval ratings had taken another hit over his government's slow response to the typhoon, and his own apparent indifference to the suffering of his citizens.||A VISIT from the Dalai Lama was surely the last thing Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, wanted amid widespread public anger over his government’s slow response to a deadly typhoon in August. An angry China could have greatly added to his woes. But for all its grumbling about the trip, which is due to end on September 4th, the mainland does not want to upset a budding friendship.|
|Of course, Ma was well aware that he was taking no risk when he decided to approve the Dalai Lama's third visit to Taiwan. Ma's party, the KMT, is in constant communication with the CCP in Beijing, and China's mild response was apparently the result of talks between the two parties. The Dalai Lama's two previous trips to Taiwan had also triggered sturm und drang from Beijing, noises that Beijing makes to manage the foreign media and bully foreign countries. Fortunately Taiwan was led on the two previous occasions by democracy-minded Presidents who asserted Taiwan's sovereignty despite the hundreds of missiles Beijing points at the island.||Mr Ma was well aware that he was taking a risk when he decided on August 27th to approve the Dalai Lama’s request to visit the island. It would be the exiled Tibetan leader’s first trip there since 2001 and only his third ever. China was furious on the previous occasions, accusing the Taiwanese authorities of colluding with Tibetan “splittists”. Then, however, Taiwan was led by presidents who delighted in riling the mainland. Mr Ma came to power last year promising to mend fences.|
|Both Beijing and the KMT are more interesting in pushing through Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), which the Ma Administration is touting as a cure-all for Taiwan's economic blues. The Administration argues that it will be at a trade disadvantage whena free-trade pact between China and the Association of South-East Asian Nations takes effect next year. However, studies by both pro-Taiwan and pro-KMT think tanks in Taiwan show that the effects of ECFA will be mixed, with gains for polluting, subsidy-intensive traditional industries, but a 7-9% shrinkage for Taiwan's flagship IT sector. Hence, critics argue that Ma's real goal is not to secure a similar free trade deal for Taiwan, but to take a major step toward annexing the island to China.|
Mr Ma does not want to jeopardise trade negotiations that Taiwan hopes to launch with China in October. His government is keen to secure tariff cuts for industries that it believes will be put at a disadvantage when a free-trade pact between China and the Association of South-East Asian Nations takes effect next year (see article). Mr Ma’s goal is for Taiwan to secure a similar free-trade deal.
|Ma had little choice but to approve the Dalai Lama's visit. His previous refusal to permit the religious leader to visit had angered the island's Buddhists, many of whom revere the Dalai Lama. On previous trips he spoke to packed venues. The DPP's invitation to the Dalai Lama thus put Ma in an apparent bind: either reject the visit and look like Beijing's lackey, or accept it and perhaps damage relations with China. However, since China views the ECFA pact as an important step on the road to annexing Taiwan, as Chinese analysts have indicated, there was little chance that relations between the KMT and Beijing would be affected.|
In truth he had little choice but to approve the trip. On August 26th seven local politicians from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which favours Taiwan’s formal independence from China, surprised him by publicly announcing that the Dalai Lama had accepted their invitation to visit Taiwan to pray for the souls of Taiwanese who had died during Typhoon Morakot, which ravaged the island earlier in August. The storm left almost 700 people dead. Mr Ma had turned down a proposed visit by the Dalai Lama last year, saying the timing was not right. This time he risked appearing heartless if he had refused. Plunging popularity polls suggested he could not afford that.
|China confined its "ire" to blaming the pro-democracy parties in Taiwan and canceling a few minor events. KMT politicians have assidiously avoided meeting with the Dalai Lama. Both the KMT and the CCP claim that Tibet and Taiwan are part of China, while the DPP and the Tibetan freedom movements are allies, since both see themselves as facing similar problems of Chinese expansionism and colonialism.||So far, he seems to have pulled off his balancing act. China’s predictable outrage (it does not like the Dalai Lama paying visits anywhere) stopped short of blaming Mr Ma himself. The president helped by ruling out a meeting with the Dalai Lama, unlike his predecessors President Lee Teng-hui who had done so in 1997 and President Chen Shui-bian who had met him in 2001.|
|While disputing that his visit was political, the Dalai Lama met with DPP politicians, and said that Taiwan should preserve and protect its democracy, and that China should democratize. His aides canceled a speech and a press conference and scaled down a public meeting.The Dalai Lama’s nephew, Khedroob Thondup, said this was a result of heavy pressure from Mr Ma’s National Security Council.||The Dalai Lama, for his part, appeared eager to avoid trouble. “My visit here is of a non-political nature,” he said at the airport at the start of his six-day visit. “Actually, I am a Buddhist monk. It’s my moral principle to come if someone asks me to share sadness.” His aides cancelled a speech and a press conference and scaled down a public meeting. The Dalai Lama’s nephew, Khedroob Thondup, said this was a result of heavy pressure from Mr Ma’s National Security Council.|
|At Siaolin Village in southern Taiwan, where some 500 people were buried in landslides triggered by the typhoon, the Dalai Lama prayed with villagers. He also spoke to thousands of people at venues in southern Taiwan. There were a few desultory protests by right-wing Chinese nationalist groups, which Taiwan gangsters in southern China told local TV stations claimed they were behind. Local polls by both the DPP and pro-KMT media organs showed widespread approval of the visit.||In the village of Hsiao Lin, now a grey mass of rubble where an estimated 500 people were buried alive in a landslide triggered by the typhoon, the Dalai Lama embraced weeping relatives of the villagers. Deliberately placing his face away from journalists’ microphones, the exiled Tibetan leader said Taiwan was enjoying democracy. “I myself am totally dedicated to the pursuit of democracy,” he said.|
|China, intent on annexing the island through its alliance with Ma's party, the KMT, did nothing to disrupt relations between the two parties. With the Dalai Lama scheduled to leave at the end of the week, attention will be shifting to former President Chen Shui-bian, whose corruption trial verdict is scheduled for Sept 11. The government has already replaced one judge in the case when he ruled in favor of Chen, and the former President remains the only person ever indicted on corruption charges to remain in prison prior to his verdict. Few expect an acquittal.|
China’s retaliation has been desultory. A delegation led by Su Ning, China’s deputy central bank governor, which was scheduled to arrive in Taiwan on August 31st, postponed its visit—but only by a week. Chinese officials may be pleased that the DPP has apparently gained little. Whatever gains it might have made were overshadowed on September 1st when former President Chen’s wife, son, daughter and son-in-law were jailed for perjury. On September 11th a court is due to announce a verdict in the corruption trial of Mr Chen himself. Few expect an acquittal.
As you can see, in our universe we are fortunate indeed to have such fine reporting for Serious Readers.
- NYTimes on the India-China border as a flashpoint. As always when Taiwan is not the topic, note how the article has no trouble identifying the source of the tension as China's expansionist dreams. When Taiwan is the topic -- as in the above Economist piece -- you can bet that the source of the tension is Taiwan.
- Taipei schools don't want to fly Chinese flags. And why should they, with China boycotting the opening ceremonies.
- Bruce jacobs' excellent commentary on Chen and the judicial system. It is, however, missing two sentences from the beginning, where he points out that he had to meet Chen in a visiting room set aside for prisoners convicted of felonies.
- RTI on a trip to Siaolin Village where 500 lay buried beneath the mud.
- J Michael on China Post's insane editorial saying democracy was basically a bad idea.
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