Taiwan's ambiguous national status is its most fundamental problem, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) said yesterday at the opening ceremony of a conference on overseas Taiwanese independence activities, as he reiterated his call for the rectification of Taiwan's name.
"People need to have a sense of self-awareness to know themselves. This in turn leads to an understanding of personal and national identity," Lee said at the conference in Taipei, entitled "Self-Awareness and Identity: A Seminar on Overseas Taiwanese Movements from 1950 to 1990."
"In my 12 years as president, I pushed for democratization and localization in an effort to realize special state-to-state relations between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China. I also wanted to reform the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT], pushing the party towards identifying with Taiwan and leaving behind notions of Greater China consciousness," Lee said.
"During the KMT's authoritarian rule in the post-war era, the voices of those living in Taiwan were silenced. Fortunately, overseas Taiwanese movements sustained the national spirit and insisted on the principles behind the pro-Taiwanese campaigns," he said.
"The development of democratic politics in the post-war period is a significant part of human rights history," Lee said.
Bringing together high-profile overseas political activists, the seminar aimed to translate the experiences of the activists into historical record.
Chang Yen-hsien (張炎憲), president of the Wu San-lien Foundation for Taiwan Historical Materials, which organized the seminar, said that while the overseas movements were slowly being forgotten, no complete documentation of overseas Taiwanese activities from 1950 to 1990 exists.
"Young people do not know about this period of history, but it's important because after 1990, the overseas activists were absorbed into movements in Taiwan. There needs to be a historical coherence," Chang said.
"Whether people oppose or affirm this bit of history is not of concern to me. What really matters is that this historical record actually exists," Chang said.
"These activists are all getting on in age. They may not be alive in 10 years' time," he said.
Chang said that following the seminar the foundation would be collecting and publishing the papers that overseas activists had prepared for the meeting. He said the papers form a comprehensive survey of overseas activities, ranging from the early independence movements in Japan to North American organizations and publications that still exist.
While overseas activities played a significant role in relation to post-war authoritarian rule, conference participants said that the importance of overseas activities was no longer the same.
"Given the high degree of freedom in Taiwan, overseas activities will be less important in the future," said Wu Shu-ming (
"Second-generation overseas Taiwanese who are citizens of other countries should put those countries first. However, they should realize that their roots are in Taiwan ...They should know that the White Terror mentality is hotwired into the KMT's DNA," said presidential national policy advisor Alice King (
Well-known historian and president of the Association for Taiwan Independence, Su Beng (史明), questioned the seminar's influence.