After almost 90 years and a history that has mirrored many of the dramatic changes in the political landscape of contemporary China, Taiwan’s Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission is set to close its doors.
Taiwanese officials confirmed on Tuesday that the commission, which promotes Mongolian and Tibetan culture and exchanges, would be phased out before the end of the year as part of restructuring efforts to streamline the island’s government.
Some of its functions would be absorbed by the expanded Department of Hong Kong, Macao, Mongolia and Tibet Affairs under the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s top government agency on its policy dealings with Beijing.
As part of the phase-out plans, the cabinet [has not] allocated a budget for the commission for next year,” cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung said.
The cabinet would formally submit a phase-out bill before the legislative review of the government’s fiscal budget for 2018, which is scheduled for the end of the month, he said.
Minister without portfolio Hsu Jan-yau, who heads the commission, said that some of its other duties would be transferred to the Mainland Affairs Council and the Culture Ministry, while operations concerning relations and exchanges would go to the Foreign Ministry.
Under Taiwan’s constitution, Tibet and Mongolia are still considered part of the Republic of China.
“At present, there are 49 staff members, six of whom will be reassigned to the Mainland Affairs Council’s Department of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs, which will take a new name: the Department of Hong Kong, Macao, Mongolia and Tibet Affairs,” Hsu Jan-yau said.
“The rest will go to the Culture Ministry’s new department, the Mongolian and Tibetan Cultural Centre.”
Similarly, the remainder of the commission’s NT$115 million (US$3.8 million) budget for this year would be transferred to the Mainland Affairs Council and the Culture Ministry, he said.
The history of the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission stretches as far back as the Qing dynasty when it was founded as the Mongolian Bureau in 1636. After several title changes under different government departments following the fall of the Qing dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China government on the mainland in 1911, it settled on its current name in 1928.
Outer Mongolia declared independence shortly after the fall of Qing.
According to media reports, the late Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek attempted to use the commission – which he relocated to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war – to promote rebellions against the Chinese Communists in Tibet and Inner Mongolia.
Between 1971 and 1978, one of its main functions was to recruit ethnic Tibetan children from India and Nepal to study in Taiwan in the hope they would be of value to Chiang’s government after it had reclaimed the mainland. That hope ended with Chiang’s death in 1975 and the realisation among the Kuomintang that such an outcome was no longer possible.
According to the commission there are currently 472 ethnic Mongolian and 648 Tibetans living in Taiwan.
Discussions of abolishing the organisation have been ongoing since the days of Chen Shui-bian, the former head of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who served as president between 2000 and 2008, before being convicted on corruption charges in 2009.
The pro-independence camp in Taiwan has always struggled to rationalise having a commission to “administer” Mongolia and Tibet, both of which exist outside the jurisdiction of Taiwan. In 2010, then president and leader of the Kuomintang Ma Ying-jeou ordered a restructuring of the government, which included the abolishment of the commission.
But the closure did not come about, mainly due to arguments over whether Tibet and Mongolia should be considered foreign or mainland areas.
On the redistribution of the commission’s responsibilities, DPP legislator Tsai Yi-yu said that “having the Mainland Affairs Council absorb part of the function of the commission [would hurt the feelings of Outer Mongolia] as it would make Mongolia an entity subordinate to China.”
However, former commissioner Kao Su-po said that the fact that only six commission employees would be reassigned to the council suggested that the current DPP government no longer considered Mongolian and Tibetan as part of mainland affairs.
“This would only upset Beijing, which has long suspected that President Tsai Ing-wen is quietly promoting a creeping independence movement in Taiwan,” he said.