Age will not weary Lee Teng-hui

By Paul Lin 林保華  / 

Fri, Oct 14, 2005 - Page 8

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) set out on his two-week US visit on Tuesday, bringing to mind his visit in 1995 when he gave a speech at Cornell University. In the 10 years between these visits, Taiwan has changed significantly, as have cross-strait relations and the international situation as a whole. Even though Lee has been out of the Presidential Office for quite some time, his influence cannot be underestimated. It is no wonder he is constantly attacked by Beijing.

In a 2003 symposium entitled "Hong Kong under `one country, two systems,'" organized by Taiwan Advocates, an organization founded by Lee, I was interviewed by a reporter from a Hong Kong-based cable news channel. She asked me how far-reaching Lee's influence was, and what I thought about Lee's pro-Japan attitude.

I said Lee's role as a political figure was not as influential as when he was still president. Given that some who followed Lee did not do so out of idealism but out of personal interest, many turned against him after he stepped down.

Although Lee's followers have diminished in number, those remaining quite fervently pursue his political ideals. And even though Lee is the founder of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), it is not appropriate to use results of opinion polls on support for the TSU to indicate the level of Lee's support, since many in the Democratic Progressive Party also support his ideas.

As to the second question, it is hardly surprising that Lee, who was born under Japanese rule, is pro-Japanese. Many Taiwanese who experienced the 228 Incident and other similar incidents of persecution involving the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government, felt that the KMT compared poorly with the Japanese government. These experiences are very different from those of Chinese who suffered the effects of the war with Japan.

I have encountered people who like to chastise Lee for having been a communist in his youth. This, in fact, is nothing to be ashamed of. At the time, a lot of passionate young people joined, or were sympathetic to the Communist Party because it was seen as idealistic.

Great changes have occurred in Taiwan in the 10 years since Lee's previous visit to the US, including the introduction of direct presidential elections and the transfer of government power. These developments are important to democracy in Taiwan and a first for the Chinese world. When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) reacted to Lee's visit 10 years ago with verbal attacks and military threats, it showed its true militarist and expansionist face. This military threat only served to strengthen Taiwanese self-awareness.

When Lee mentioned the existence of the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan in his speech at Cornell University, he provoked China's irrational fury.

Today, the term ROC is not enough to satisfy Taiwanese who have developed a national identification with Taiwan and strive for the establishment of one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait. This wish is now gaining more and more currency with the US and the world at large.

Lee is a great contemporary Taiwanese politician. Through his vision, he has made a permanent contribution to Taiwan's democracy and its development in becoming a normal country. At a crucial juncture in Taiwan's political development, his rich political and economic experience has allowed him to fulfill the responsibilities of a loyal opposition by proposing principled goals and flexible strategies.

His ability to take a comprehensive view of the whole situation is one of the reasons why he has been so successful throughout his many decades in politics and also why he retains strong influence. If he has been guilty of any mistakes, it was that he believed in a few cheats who only wanted fame and wealth, and that he helped them gain high office.

Lee is a valuable asset for Taiwan and the whole Chinese world. This is demonstrated by the fact that the CCP has labeled him its enemy No. 1. The fact that Lee, having passed 80, still wants to serve the country also highlights the difficult situation that Taiwan finds itself in as a result of indiscriminate pressure placed on it by the Chinese.

During this visit to the US, I hope that he will make Taiwan's voice heard and that he will make suggestions that can bring Taiwan closer to the US and the world.

Paul Lin is a commentator based in New York.

Translated by Lin Ya-ti and Perry Svensson