This year marks the 10th anniversary of the 1996 Taiwan Straits missile crisis. Ten years ago in the runup to Taiwan's first popular presidential elections in March 1996, Xinhua news agency announced that China would conduct missile tests along the coast across the Strait from March 8 to March 15. China launched four missiles targeting zones just off Taiwan's northern and southern coasts. In response to the rising tensions between China and Taiwan, the US immediately dispatched the USS Independence to take up position off Taiwan's eastern coast. The US' show of force effectively held back China's military ambitions and helped solve the crisis, which had sent shockwaves throughout the international community.
Why did China conduct ballistic missile tests? Some people believe that the reason was former president Lee Teng-hui's (
Although this sounds like a plausible explanation for China's anger, a more important reason was Lee's achievements in promoting Taiwan's democratic revolution and abolishing the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion and the National Assembly in 1991. Lee also initiated constitutional amendments to allow direct presidential elections by popular vote -- which served to build a constructive channel for Taiwanese to influence the government -- carried out reforms in step with democratic norms and helped Taiwan to become a normal state.
More importantly, Lee helped the Taiwanese throw off the shackles of a colonial mentality and transcend the perception of the tragic fate of being Taiwanese. From the broad perspectives of culture, history, society and ethnicity, Lee advocated strengthening Taiwanese consciousness and building a society of people who share a strong sense of identity.
If economic development is our flesh, democracy is our skeleton and a Taiwanese consciousness and identity our blood, our soul and our personality, then Lee succeeded in making Taiwan a more more full-fledged nation.
Taiwan's first direct presidential election in 1996 was also symbolic of the abandonment of the legitimacy of China's claim and the building of a nation which truly belongs to the Taiwanese. In this regard, China's attempts to change the direction of Taiwan's history through political intimidation and military coercion only underlined its vain and brutal nature. In effect, China's 1996 missile tests to intimidate Taiwan were doomed to fail because such a move only succeeded in hurting its relationship with the Taiwanese.
In the wake of the missile crisis, Lee won a commanding 54 percent of the vote in the 1996 election, defeating candidates from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and other opposition parties to become the first popularly elected president of Taiwan.
That was 10 years ago. While Taiwan continues on its democratic path and the development of a Taiwanese consciousness, China has shown no signs of relenting or backing off from its military threats. Taiwan's situation is clearly becoming increasingly precarious. Ten years ago, as the missiles were dropping in the waters off Taiwan, the people of Taiwan seemed more united than they are today. Despite conflicts between different political parties, their shared hatred of the Chinese enemy unified them in their approach toward China. As a result, Taiwan was able to come through the missile crisis in good shape.