The man who was once dubbed Mr Democracy took great pleasure in meeting Chinese students studying in Taiwan and bluntly telling them that democratization in China would be crucial for the development of their country.
“I would consider visiting China — but not before it has become a democratic and free country,” former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) told a Chinese student surnamed Zuo (左) on Tuesday, when he made a speech to a group of students at TransWorld University in Douliou (斗六), Yunlin County.
“Please excuse me for saying this, but the biggest problem for the Chinese government is that it has not been telling its people the truth ... and its pledge to pursue democratization has been just lip service,” he told another Chinese exchange student surnamed Zhao (趙) yesterday in a meeting with students at National Yunlin University of Science and Technology.
Chinese students enjoyed challenging Lee during his recent visits to university campuses — National Central University on June 5 and the two schools in Yunlin County over the past two days — asking whether Lee would be willing to visit China and his thoughts on the rise of China as a global power.
Lee said he welcomed Chinese students visiting Taiwan so that they can “get a feel for the country’s democracy and freedom,” but he also said that both Beijing and Chinese better understanding his ideas if they read his books.
The 89-year-old is disliked in Beijing because of his attempt to “separate” Taiwan and China by advocating a “special state-to-state relationship.”
Leaving his table and walking toward the students, Lee looked Zhao in the eye and said he had never advocated Taiwanese independence.
“I was the one who ended the hostility between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) [by officially ending the Period of Mobilization for the Suppression of Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期) in 1991],” he said, adding that Beijing’s answer to his olive branch had been a series of missile tests during the 1996 presidential campaign.
However, Lee said he wanted to do more than just lecture Chinese students.
According to Wang Yan-jun (王燕軍), director of Lee’s office, the former president believes that education is the No. 1 task for Taiwan as it seeks to improve cross-strait relations.
That was why the former president has recently spent so much time visiting students and would more than happy to be a guest speaker at any university if invited, Wang said.
As Lee said in his speech — educational reform was his central focus after undertaking judicial and political reforms earlier in his career, Wang said.
It was the responsibility of the next generation to lead the country to the next level, he added.
In his recent speeches, Lee has said that it is important for young people to understand Taiwanese identity, Taiwanese history, the nation’s fight for democracy and freedom, to be able to answer the question “who am I?” and to have the drive to get things done.
“Such things are important because 10 years from now you will be leading this country,” Lee told the students.
Or “countries,” if the Chinese students heard his message.