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Mon, Feb 19, 2001 - Page 3 News List

DPP looks to a new era of relations with the US

Lee Ying-yuan is the first DPP politician to be posted to Taiwan's representative office in Washington. In an exclusive interview with `Taipei Times' Washington corrspondent Charles Snyder, the former dissident gives his views on how Taiwan-US relations will develop during the administration of George W. Bush

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Lee Ying-yuan is a former legislator and currently Taiwan's deputy representative to the US.

PHOTO: CHEN CHEN-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

Ten years ago, Lee Ying-yuan (李應元) was a fugitive in central Taiwan, a Taiwan independence advocate wanted by the KMT government for subversion. Two years ago, Lee had a megaphone in his hand on Capitol Hill, when, as a dissident opposition legislator, he joined members of Congress in a demonstration demanding better treatment for Taiwan from the Clinton administration.

Now he sits in a spacious, sun-lit office on the third floor of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Northwest Washington, a few miles north of the White House, as Taiwan's second-most senior representative to the US.

When President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) appointed him last September, Lee became the first TECRO deputy representative to be appointed from within the DPP. Former president Clinton is just a memory, and Lee now finds himself dealing with a new cast of characters from the Bush administration.

Lee, who was first viewed with suspicion by some within TECRO, appears to have fitted in well. Abandoning his earlier public pro-independence stance, he now seems comfortable with the excruciating nuances of indecision that govern US-Taiwan relations.

Lee, 47, was born and raised in Yuanlin, and received a degree in Public Health from National Taiwan University. Shortly after the Kaohsiung Incident of Dec. 10. 1979, when KMT forces broke up a human rights rally and arrested DPP leaders, Lee went to the US, where he enrolled in Harvard University and received a master's degree in health policy and management. There, he became the first publisher of a Taiwanese news magazine that advocated independence, and took part in other pro-independence activities.

After receiving a doctorate from the University of North Carolina in 1988, he found himself on the KMT blacklist when he was twice denied a re-entry visa to take up teaching positions offered to him by National Taiwan University.

In July 1990, he "sneaked back" to Taiwan, to use his words, and spent the next 14 months on the run, evading KMT security forces, and at one time dogged by a reward for his capture that reached NT$10 million. In September 1991, he was arrested in Taipei, convicted of sedition for his advocacy of independence, and given a prison sentence.

The faculty at National Taiwan University, however, rallied to his support, and Lee was released after nine months, in May 1992.

After returning to lead the "One Taiwan One China Movement" and the "New Constitution Coalition," he was elected to the legislature in the DPP in 1995 and re-elected in 1999.

For the past five months, Lee has had to lead the life of a diplomat, which demands a whole new set of skills. In TECRO, and indeed the whole Taiwan presence in Washington, dominated by the KMT, Lee is something of an anomaly. But his DPP background does give him some advantages among the Washington power elite that seeks something beyond the KMT orthodoxy.

Taipei Times: Throughout your life, you have played the role of a dissident, but now you have a different role. How are you making the transformation?

Lee: We have to adjust ourselves. When you are a member of the opposition, you can say anything you want. But when you're in power, you have to accommodate the opposition, and try to be polite with them. So we have to change our mentality.

TT: Has it been hard for you?

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