Exiled Tibetan lama voices concerns


WORRIES: Plans to eliminate the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission and the red tape involved with visas are much on the mind of lama Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche

By Lin Miao-jung

STAFF REPORTER, The Taipei Times

Tuesday, March 5, 2002

An influential and senior exiled Tibetan lama yesterday received the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission's assurance that it would consider simplifying the procedure by which exiled lamas apply for visas to Taiwan and discussed the commission's future under government downsizing plans.

The lama, Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, is leading a delegation of exiled Tibetan lamas from India, and the commission was their first stop on a 13-day visit to Taiwan. They were received by the commission's chairman, Hsu Chih-hsiung.

The delegation is visiting Tai-wan to preach Tibetan Buddhism. Shamar Rinpoche is a senior lama and one of four bodyguards to Karmapa Rinpoche, the head of one of the four branches of Tibetan Buddhism. Hsu agreed at the meeting, attended by members of the press, that Tibetan Buddhism has many supporters in Taiwan who need spiritual guidance.

"It is necessary to simplify the visa application process for lamas," he said.

Currently, for lamas exiled from Tibet since China's 1959 crackdown on Tibetan dissidents and religious activists, the Tai-wan government uses a time-consuming procedure to verify their identities.

The procedure, according to the commission official Hsu Kui-siang, is necessary because most exiled lamas live in South Asian countries such as India, Nepal, and Bhutan where the forging of documents is very common.

"In order for their status as lamas qualified to preach the religion to be confirmed, they have to send their documents to the commission in Taipei to examine, so their visas can be approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," said Hsu Kui-siang yesterday.

According to the commission's statistics, the numbers of lamas (Tibetan Buddhist monks) applying to come to Taiwan to preach the religion has risen from about 900 per year 10 years ago to about 2,000 cases each year now.

Hsu and Shamar Rinpoche also discussed the possibility of the commission being abolished, as reported by the local media recently. Hsu said that the purpose of the government's downsizing plan was to raise the nation's competitiveness.

"Under this consideration, an adjustment to the position of the commission is necessary," he said. Hsu Chih-hsiung added, the function of the commission should be retained, but not necessarily at the level of a commission level.

"How the downsizing will be carried out and how it will affect the commission are currently being studied and no final decision has yet been taken," he said.

But according to a Chinese-language media report on Sunday, Hsu has recommended merging it with the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) to create a "Mainland, Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission." MAC Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen told the Taipei Times yesterday, however, "I've never heard about that."

Government ministers told a press conference held on Saturday that a consensus had been reached at a planning meeting on government reforms on Saturday to aim to reduce the number of ministries and councils to between 20 and 23, down from the current 36.

No changes to the structure of the government will take effect until May 2004.