Lee can still pull a crowd among the expatriates

By Cao Changqing (曹長青)  / 

Fri, Oct 28, 2005 - Page 8

A few days ago, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) returned to Taiwan from his trip to the US. During his two-week trip, Lee, called "Mr Democracy" by some, was given a warm welcome not only by Taiwanese living in the US, but also by the US media.

I watched the receptions he received in New York and Los Angeles. The banquets put on for him in those cities demonstrated the affection and respect the Taiwanese still have for their former leader.

The New York dinner was held in a plush hotel in Manhatten, and commanded US$250 per head. The event ran up a bill of US$250,000, all paid for by local Taiwanese.

A declaration of affection for Lee, it was a very touching occasion.

In Los Angeles he was treated to a dinner called the "Banquet of the Century," attended by more than 300 people.

The reception given to Lee as he entered the room was something akin to the fervor one would expect at a political rally prior to a presidential election.

Not even Kim Dae-jung or Kim Young-sam in South Korea, Corazon Aquino in the Philippines or the four former living US presidents could expect a welcome like this.

This enthusiasm was not limited to Taiwanese people. It also came from the the US media, with reports appearing in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, with the Post publishing a special interview.

The Wall Street Journal called on Americans to give Taiwan's Mr Democracy a hero's welcome. Lee was also called a hero by the Los Angeles Times, which quoted a US senator as saying that Taiwan should take down all the statues of former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), and replace them with those of Lee.

The US is visited by political figures week in and week out, sometimes presidents and prime ministers, but these visits, let alone those by former leaders, do not necessarily reach the papers, as was the case with a recent visit by the prime minister of Bulgaria.

This time, it was the former leader of a country that doesn't even have a UN seat.

Lee's speech at the National Press Club (NPC) in Washington was also an unprecedented occasion, with over 200 journalists in attendance. According to the NPC chairman, there had never been so many reporters there.

In the US Congress, more than 20 senators took to the podium with speeches of welcome for Lee, all praising the former president for his promotion of democracy.

A Cuban-born woman senator wished that her country would one day become like Taiwan.

A chairman of the US Congressional Taiwan Caucus welcomed the fact that Lee has been termed a "troublemaker," saying that name was also leveled at former presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Lee was presented with a US flag that had flown on Capitol Hill in recognition of his promotion of democracy in Taiwan, and the praise Lee had had for US democracy during the course of his trip.

For Taiwan, Lee is a hero struggling to protect Taiwan from China.

For US senators, he is a hero who is fighting for the cause of democracy.

One could say that he is a hero for anyone who believes in democracy and freedom.

His trip across the US has been a victorious call for democracy, a hero's voyage in which Taiwan has been allowed to shine.

Cao Changqing is a writer based in New York.