Sun, Sep 02, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The former president’s reversal

Lee Teng-hui adhered to the KMT’s pro-unification, one-China stance during much of his political career, but his attitude started to change in the 1990s, finally breaking ties with the party in 2001 and leading the 2003 march to change the country’s name to Taiwan

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

By the 1996 elections, Lee stated, “Let’s create a new culture with greater Taiwan as its foundation.” This is when he brought up his “New Taiwanese” ideal, essentially stating that besides Aboriginals, most people in Taiwan came from China at one point or another and that the time of arrival in Taiwan should not be a determining factor for being Taiwanese.

“We just need to know that Taiwan is ours; and only by working hard for Taiwan can one show that he or she is ‘Taiwanese,’” he said in a speech. “Of course, we should not forget our Chinese cultural roots either.”


In a 1998 submission to the Wall Street Journal Lee denied promoting independence or two Chinas, instead stating his hopes for Taiwan and China to unite under a democratic government and denouncing the idea of “one country, two systems,” stating that democratic rule must be enjoyed by people on both sides.

In his memoir, however, he explains his aversion to the term “independence” as due to Taiwan not being under occupation by China, so it would not need to achieve independence from any entity.

Lee continued to make reforms toward his ideals, for example restructuring the government by minimizing the powers of the Taiwan Provincial Government and transferring its major duties to the Executive Yuan.

In 1999, Lee caused an international stir by stating that China and Taiwan relations should be on a “special state-to-state” basis, drawing outrage from China, who saw it as a proclamation of Taiwan as an independent state.

In 2000, Lee stepped down and the KMT lost power for the first time since it arrived in Taiwan in 1945. KMT-supporters were outraged, surrounding party headquarters at one point and Lee eventually resigned as chairman.

The next year, his supporters in the KMT formed the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) with Lee as “spiritual leader.” In July, the group stated that it would “loyally advocate former president Lee’s ideals and continue to implement his guidelines.”

During this time, Lee announced his support for the TSU and criticized the KMT as a “sore loser,” upset that they were not following his pro-Taiwan policies. The Taipei Times reported that Lee believed that the TSU’s “ideals are consistent with his own, and that he would do everything possible to help the new political party achieve victory in the year-end legislative elections.”

After months of debate, the KMT revoked Lee’s party membership on Sept. 21, stating that he “betrayed the party’s resolutions, blemished its reputation and harmed the party’s interests.” From then on, Lee was free to take whatever stance he wanted.

Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.

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