What Lies Ahead for China-Taiwan-Tibet Relations?

The historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou raised plenty of questions about future relations between the two sides, but another major player that kept an eye on the meeting was the Tibet government in exile.

Chinese-Taiwanese-Tibetan relations have undergone vast changes since 1981, when Beijing issued both propositions to solve their territorial issues.

Toward Tibet, China issued the “Five Point Proposal to the Dalai Lama,” which voiced China’s goal to return the Dalai Lama. Beijing feared his presence in the Tibetan region might raise nationalist sentiment. So, the proposal called for him to reside in Beijing while enjoying “the same political status and living conditions as he had before 1959.” His followers were promised better jobs and living conditions.

In Taiwan’s case, China issued a more lucrative “Nine Point Proposal,” which promised the island a “high degree of autonomy as a special administrative region,” along with the retention of its army, culture, and economic relations with foreign countries. Nonetheless, Taiwan rejected it.

Tibet also rejected its proposal and even argued it should have been offered one similar to that made to Taiwan.

Tibetan delegates stressed they deserved more autonomy as they were “different from the Chinese in race, culture, religion, customs, language, natural habitat, and history.”

Beijing argued that “Tibet has already been liberated 33 years ago and decisions have already been made. Because Taiwan is not liberated that is the reason why we presented these nine-point offer. It is not the case for Tibet … Since ancient times Tibet has been an inseparable part of Chinese territory, where the Central Government has always exercised effective sovereign jurisdiction over the region. So the issue of resuming exercise of sovereignty does not exist.”

As the 80s progressed, Tibet-Taiwanese relations were virtually non-existent or contentious if at all. But relations began to ease in the 90s with new Taiwanese leadership. To Beijing’s displeasure, the Dalai Lama made three trips to Taiwan from 1997 to 2009.

The first trip was during the tenure of President Lee Teng-hui, the second was after the victory of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under President Chen Shui-bian, and the third followed the KMT’s reelection to power under President Ma Ying-jeou.

In 2003, the Taiwan-Tibet Exchange Foundation was established and Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian invited the “Tibetan government in exile to join Taiwan in defying China.”

Currently, the KMT’s President Ma Ying-jeou is focusing on continued normalization of cross-strait economic relations under his policy of “Three Nos”: No unification, No independence and No use of force. But, the DPP is favored strongly in the wake of an upcoming election.

A DPP victory could spell tighter relations with Tibet and even a coalition against Beijing.

Or, it could bring China closer to the negotiating table. In hindsight, the Dalai Lama’s trip to Taiwan in 1997 coincided with the opening of informal communication between exiled Tibetan leadership and Beijing. The 2001 visit followed formal talks between both sides in 2002. The last such meeting took place in 2010.

But, is a historic meeting between Xi and the Dlai Lama likely? Perhaps not. Maybe, the Dalai Lama’s next trip to Taiwan is.

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