TAIPEI | He was the bête noire of Beijing in the 1990s. Former taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui died Thursday at the age of 97 years, leaving a legacy of democratic transition, the exact opposite of the authoritarian regime still in force on the chinese mainland.
“Troublemaker”, a “Fisher against the chinese nation”, a “Separatist”: the chinese authorities had not spared its qualifiers, against a leader of taiwan, better known in the West under the name of “Mr. Democracy”.
The architect of the transformation of Taiwan into a free State, and modern after decades of dictatorship, Lee Teng-hui, who died of septic shock after months of hospitalization, had been its president from 1988 to 2000.
He had become a leading figure in the movement to recognize the island as a sovereign State, flirting dangerously with the notion of “independence”, a casus belli for Beijing.
The island of 23 million people and the mainland have been governed separately since 1949 and fleeing to Taiwan by the nationalists of the Kuomintang (KMT), while the communists of Mao Tse-tung took power in Beijing.
The two States claimed since, at least in theory, their sovereignty over the entire chinese — the official name of Taiwan remains “Republic of China”, under which the island is recognized by a handful of governments.
Missiles against aircraft carrier
After 70 years of separation, an increasing share of the Taiwanese do not feel, however, more links with the continent. Beijing’s threat to take the island by force, especially in case of the declaration of independence in Taipei.
An independence with which the communist regime accuses Lee Teng-hui to have made the bed, refusing to acknowledge the “principle of one China”, sacrosanct to Beijing.
Lee Teng-hui preferred to the notion of a special relationship “state-to-State” with the mainland — a blasphemy to the communist leaders.
His presidency was marked by a severe crisis in the years 1995-96, when mainland China fired missiles in the strait separating it from Taiwan.
Beijing blamed on Mr Lee happened to be to get invited on american soil by his former university — while the United States are not expected to maintain diplomatic relations with the island.
The chinese regime was especially furious at the introduction of the presidential election by direct universal suffrage in Taiwan, a first for Mr. Lee will win the upper-hand in march 1996.
The crisis will culminate with the submission by Washington of an aircraft carrier in the Taiwan strait, stressing the determination of the United States to defend the island.
“An enormous void”
Lee Teng-hui was born in Taiwan in 1923, under japanese occupation. At the age of 20 years, he studied in Japan and will join even for a time the japanese army.
Expert on the subjects of agriculture, Mr. Lee will become mayor of Taipei, before being appointed vice-president in 1984 by the then president, Chiang Ching-kuo, son and successor of the dictator Chiang Kai-shek.
The death of Chiang Ching-kuo in 1988, Lee became president — the first native of the island to lead the State, to the difference of Chiang, natives of the continent.
Chiang Ching-kuo had already lifted martial law in 1987, but it is Mr. Lee who will lead Taiwan towards democracy.
Lee Teng-hui “has helped to bring an end to decades of authoritarian rule and ushered in a new era of economic prosperity, openness and the rule of law”, had welcomed on Thursday the head of the american diplomacy Mike Pompeo.
The current president of taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, has paid tribute to a man who is “irreplaceable,” which leaves “an enormous void in our country”.
Any other sound of a bell from Beijing, where the affairs Office, the taiwanese merely recalled that the independence of the island “is a dead end”.
The daily nationalist Global Times has called Mr. Lee from “the godfather separatism in taiwan”. “His death is certainly not bad news for most people on the continent”, commented the newspaper.
“He died too soon to see the liberation of Taiwan by the chinese army”, regretted, however, a user on chinese social network Weibo.