Taiwan former president (from 1988-2000) Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), also known as Taiwan’s “father of democracy”, died at the age of 97 on July 30, 2020. In 1988, after the sudden death of Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, Lee Teng-hui was vice president and succeeded as president. He eliminated “Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion” in 1991, a martial law launched when the KMT arrival in 1949 that suspended the democratic functions of the government.
In 1990, Thousands of Taiwanese students demonstrated as “Wild Lily student movement” initiated by students from National Taiwan University. The protest sought direct elections of Taiwan’s president and vice president and new popular elections for all representatives in the National Assembly. The representatives in the National Assembly haven’t been re-elected since 1947.
In response of students demands, in the end of 1991, Lee Teng-hui also urged the amendment of Constitution Law to resign a new Legislative Yuan. Finally, the first direct presidential election in Taiwan held in 1996, Lee Teng-hui was democratically elected with a landslide victory. Despite all that, he was also a controversial figure.
Being A Member of Communist Party
Lee Teng-hui was born during Japanese occupation on Jan 15, 1923. His father was a police officer under Japanese government. Before joining Kuomintang (KMT) in 1971, Lee Teng-hui was once a part of Communist Party of China (CPC) between 1947 to 1948. Lee Teng-hui joined the Nationalist Party, known as the Kuomintang or KMT in 1971. He was then becoming an agricultural minister, being appointed mayor of Taipei in 1978 and governor of Taiwan Province in 1981.
Statement of Taiwan Independence
In the meantime, Communist China saw the democracy developing in Taiwan as a threat, and its fury was exacerbated when Lee Teng-hui visited his alma mater – Cornell University in the United States in 1995. To Beijing, it marked that the United States was willing to accord special recognition to the ruler of a “renegade province”.
In an interview in 1996, the same year that Lee Teng-hui became the first popularly elected ROC president, he stated a special state-to-state relationship existed between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Not only for People’s Republic of China, this was also “heresy” for the KMT. Many in the KMT continued to see Taiwan as part of China, and looked forward to eventual union between the sides (even until now). Lee Teng-hui was expelled from the party in 2000 after party members blamed him for the loss of presidential election. (Read more: KMT Split Handed Chen the Presidential Victory)
Since then, Lee Teng-hui became an ever more vocal supporter of Taiwan independence. In 2001, supporters of Lee Teng-hui formed a new pro-independence party – Taiwan Solidarity Union. In 2012, he backed independence-minded candidate Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progress Party (DPP), who lost to Ma Ying-jeou, on behalf of KMT with a closer tie between China and Taiwan.
Relations with Japan
Taiwan was colonized by Japan from 1895 to 1945 and residents of the island who grew up in that period, such as Lee Teng-hui, attended schools where Japanese language, songs, and stories were taught. Besides his father, his older brother died serving in the Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II and is listed in the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Lee Teng-hui even had a Japanese name, Iwasato Masao (岩里政男) under Japanese policy when he was young.
How come having close ties with Japan is a problem? Lee Teng-hui remarked, “The Senkaku Islands, no matter whether in the past, for now or in the future, certainly belong to Japan.” on 13 September 2012 during the 2012 China anti-Japanese demonstrations. In 2014, Lee said in a Japanese magazine SAPIO “China spreads lies such as Nanjing massacre to the world … Korea and China use invented history as their activity of propaganda for their country. Comfort women is the most remarkable example.” (Read more: The Comfort Women Controversy – Lessons from Taiwan)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised Lee Teng-hui how he “contributed to boosting Japan and Taiwan’s bilateral relations” and his efforts to promote freedom and democracy in Taiwan.
All government agencies set flag flown at half-mast on July 31, 2020 to mourn the death of Lee Teng-hui. He is given state funeral and opened to public for sending their condolence from August 1 to 16, 2020 at Taipei Guest House.