Former Taiwan president dubbed ‘Mr Democracy’ dies aged 97
TAIPEI, July 30, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Taiwan’s former president Lee
Teng-hui, who defied China and earned the nickname “Mr Democracy” for
the part he played in the island’s transition away from authoritarian
rule, died Thursday aged 97.
He was credited with paving the way for Taiwan to become a modern,
free society after decades of one-party dictatorship and became a
champion of the island’s bid to be treated as a sovereign state
Lee had been in hospital since February after choking on some food
and had a history in recent years of chronic illnesses.
“He died of septic shock and multiple organ failure today despite
the medical team’s all out efforts to revive him,” Taipei Veterans
General Hospital vice president Hwang Shinn-jang told reporters.
Lee’s 12 years in office from 1988 to 2000 were marked by growing
cross-strait tensions as he pitched himself against Beijing,
infuriating Chinese authorities for daring to carve out a separate
identity for Taiwan.
Despite being self-ruled since 1949, Taiwan has never formally
declared independence from the mainland and Beijing has vowed to react
with force if it ever does.
China still regards Taiwan as part of its territory.
– Born into a colony –
Lee was born in Taiwan in 1923 and educated in Japan, which ruled
the island as a colony for 50 years until 1945, when it lost the
Taiwan was then handed back to China, which was under the rule of
Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) leader Chiang Kai-shek.
After Chiang lost a civil war to communist forces on the mainland
four years later, he fled to Taiwan to set up a rival government.
Ruling with an iron fist, Chiang instigated a “White Terror” purge
of opponents which lasted until his death in 1975.
TAIWAN-POLITICS-LEE-OBIT OBIT-TWO LAST
Lee, a professor of agricultural economics, was introduced to
Chiang’s son Chiang Ching-kuo in the 1970s and gained his trust.
When he became president after his father’s death, the younger
Chiang promoted Lee to various top government positions.
By 1984 he was vice president and four years later was appointed
leader following the younger Chiang’s death, becoming the island’s
first Taiwan-born president.
– China missiles –
Martial law had already been lifted by the younger Chiang in 1987
but it was Lee who drove forward Taiwan’s largely peaceful transition
into a fully functional democracy.
His government introduced wide-ranging political reforms, including
the election of a new parliament and a direct vote for president.
Lee then won Taiwan’s first ever public leadership elections in
1996, which he took by a landslide despite threats from mainland
China fired ballistic missiles into the Taiwan Strait in an
unsuccessful bid to stop voters choosing Lee, prompting the US to send
warships to the area.
Once in office, Lee urged local firms to avoid extensive investments
in China, promoting Taiwan’s statehood and separate cultural identity
from the mainland, which in turn branded him a “sinner” and
Lee was succeeded by Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive
Party (DPP) in 2000 when the KMT lost for the first time.
Lee’s commitment to formally declaring an independent Taiwan only
became clear after he stepped down and helped set up the Taiwan
Solidarity Union which advocates a split from China, a move that
prompted the KMT to expel him from the party.
After Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT succeeded Chen in 2008 and oversaw a
rapprochement with China, Lee became a vocal critic of the
government’s Beijing-friendly policies.
He was indicted on corruption charges in 2011 for allegedly
embezzling state funds while in office but was acquitted and accused
the Ma government of “inventing” offences to persecute him.
Since 2016, Taiwan has been run by president Tsai Ing-wen who is
also loathed by Beijing because she views the island as a sovereign
Beijing has ramped up economic, military and diplomatic pressure in
response but Tsai won a landslide poll victory for a second term
earlier this year.
In a statement Tsai described Lee as “irreplaceable, and his passing
is a tremendous loss to our country”.