Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in southern and central Taiwan yesterday in support of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) respective referendum proposals on the nation's bid to join the UN.
The DPP's government-backed referendum would ask voters whether the nation should apply for UN membership under the name "Taiwan," whereas the KMT's referendum would ask voters whether the nation should apply to "return" to the UN under the name "Republic of China" (ROC) or any other "practical" and dignified title.
In 1971, the ROC's UN seat was granted to the People's Republic of China (PRC).
Supporters of the DPP's proposed referendum flooded the streets in Kaohsiung City yesterday afternoon for a carnival-like rally.
Led by pan-green heavyweights such as President Chen Shui-bian (
Holding signs with slogans such as "UNlimited Taiwan," "Taiwan My Country," "Taiwanese" and "Republic of Taiwan" in both English and Mandarin, people of all ages chanted "Go Taiwan!" and "UN for Taiwan" as they marched.
A marching percussion band composed of some 15 Aboriginal teenage musicians accompanied the parade with its drumming.
Young staffers from Hsieh's campaign office drew attention at the rally by dressing up as objects characteristic of Taiwan, with one staffer clad as a bowl of braised pork rice.
Wang Kun-yao (
Wang, a university student in his junior year, said the nation must gain entry to the UN because doing so would "symbolize Taiwan's de facto independence."
"We need to assert our independent statehood so that we can enjoy dignity in the international community," he said.
"If we do not solve the problem now, 20 years down the road our next generation will still be facing the same problem," said another participant, who only gave his surname Cho (
Cho, a 60 year-old originally from Malaysia, was referring to the nation's failed attempts to join the UN over the past 14 years.
In its 15th year of applying to the UN, the government decided to adopt a new strategy by applying for UN membership using the name "Taiwan" rather than the nation's official title, the ROC.
"If we solve the problem now, we can resolve it once and for all," Cho said.
The procession arrived at a location near Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts around 6pm and was cheered by thousands of DPP supporters who had awaited their arrival.
The highlight of the demonstration came as the paraders passed through a huge "UN" gate, which the DPP said symbolized a successful entry into the international organization.
On the way to the rally, Chen encouraged those who identify with Taiwan to support the DPP's referendum proposal.
"If you think Taiwan is an independent state and not part of the PRC, please support the referendum proposed by the DPP" Chen said while taking the high speed rail from Taipei to Kaohsiung.
"If you think Taiwan is part of China or the PRC, or believe there is `one China' and that Taiwan should ultimately unify with China or that the ROC includes China and Mongolia, please vote for the KMT's referendum proposal," he said.
Later last night, Chen called out to the crowd at the rally's evening party, urging supporters to join the DPP's signature drive for its proposed referendum on joining the UN.
"The movement to seek entry to the UN has just started tonight," he said.
Hsieh, meanwhile, challenged his KMT counterpart Ma Ying-jeou's (
"Protecting Taiwan is a basic obligation of the nation's leader ... Loving Taiwan means loving the nation," Hsieh said. "I would like to ask Ma one question: Why don't you give [the name] `Taiwan' a chance? Did Taiwan do anything wrong?"
Hsieh then led the rally in chanting "Taiwan No. 1, UN for Taiwan" in English and "We want to govern our own nation; UN for Taiwan" in Hoklo, or Taiwanese.
It took China 21 years to become a UN member, Chen said, adding that he hoped it would take Taiwan less than that.
The DPP estimated that 500,000 people attended the rally.
The Kaohsiung police department said that it had not attempted to estimate the number of demonstrators.
Meanwhile, supporters of the KMT's referendum plan in Taichung waved the national flag and wore blue-and-white flip-flops as they took their appeal to the streets, voicing support for the party's referendum bid and protesting the DPP government for what they argue are dissatisfactory measures to protect their livelihoods.
Ma and his running mate Vincent Siew (
"The KMT's rally aimed at fighting for the people's livelihoods. If we can't improve the people's lives first, the issue of the UN referendum is redundant," Ma said in front of the 823 Park before the rally started at 4pm.
With the party's local branches mobilizing people to join the rally, about 1,000 tour buses blocked the city's traffic and supporters from around the country followed Ma, Siew and KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) toward the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium, where a party was held starting at 5pm.
In addition to 10 floats created by the party with different themes to highlight civic problems, such as citizens struggling with excessive credit card debts and the nation's suicide rate, the rally also featured dragon dances, giant poker cards with images ridiculing the president, and KMT youth corps members dressed as college graduates and farmers to call attention to problems these groups face.
"The nation's title is the ROC and I support the KMT in not [wanting] to change the national title in an application for UN membership," Taichung resident Chang Ming-yi (張明義), a public servant, told the Taipei Times.
Putting their 14-month-old boy on the father's shoulder, a Taichung resident surnamed Chang and her husband called on the DPP to reflect on its poor policies and urged the government to pay more attention to social problems.
"I closed my betel nut stand today to join the rally. We don't care about the UN referendum. What we want is a better life," said Chang, who declined to give her full name.
Dressed in traditional Amis clothing, Wang Chun-mei (
"The people should stand up and fight for our economy. We want the government to take care of disadvantaged groups and develop the tourism industry," she said.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (
Former KMT chairman Lien Chan (
Addressing the party, Ma condemned the DPP version of the referendum as an election gimmick designed to stir up emotions.
Ma said that the KMT version would not harm Taiwan's relationship with Washington.
"The KMT knows where the bottom line is and won't irritate our allies ... Our version proposes to maintain the status quo, but will help the nation gain UN membership," Ma said.
Ma further urged China not to oppress Taiwan by blocking it from participating in the international community and vowed to defend the nation's interests.
"We won't accept any actions that damage Taiwan's interests and dignity," Ma said.
"No countries can draw red lines for us. There will only be bottom lines that we set ourselves," he said.
The party later showed a video clip of the development of the country's baseball teams and its well-known baseball stars, including New York Yankees pitcher Wang Chien-ming (
The evening party ended with Wu and Siew lighting a model of the island, as KMT officials vowed to lead Taiwanese to a better life if the party regained power.
Liao Fung-te (廖風德), director of the KMT's organization and development committee, estimated that approximately 150,000 people had attended the demonstration.
The Taichung police department estimated that between 50,000 and 60,000 people were at the rally.
Beijing has blasted the DPP's referendum, accusing Chen of separatism.
The US has also criticized the proposal, saying it could provoke conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
Additional reporting by Ko Shu-ling and AP