Asia

Former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui dies aged 97

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TAIPEI: Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, dubbed "Mr Democracy" for burying autocratic rule in favour of freewheeling pluralism, died at the age of 97, the official Central News Agency reported on Thursday (Jul 30).

Lee became Taiwan's first democratically elected president in 1996, in a landslide victory that followed eight months of intimidating war games and missile tests by China in waters around Taiwan in an attempt to scare voters.

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Those events brought China and Taiwan to the verge of conflict, prompting the United States to send a carrier task force to the area in a warning to the Beijing government.

Inaugurated that year, Lee offered to make a "journey of peace" to mainland China.

But Beijing branded him a "splittist" bent on turning Taiwan's self-governance into fully fledged independence, and said he should be tossed into the "dustbin of history".

TOUGH ON CHINA

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The government of Taiwan, formally the Republic of China, was established in 1949 by Chiang Kai-shek, after his Nationalist forces lost control of the mainland to Mao Zedong's Communists and fled to the island, which lies some 180km across the Taiwan Strait off China's southeast coast.

Lee became the Nationalist party chairman and Taiwan's president upon the 1988 death of Chiang's son, Chiang Ching-kuo. Eight years after assuming the role, Lee's push for full democracy culminated with the island's first direct presidential vote.

FILE PHOTO: Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui speaks during a news conference in Tokyo Jun 1, 2007. Lee received a prize in memory of Japanese colonial administrator Shinpei Goto by the Shinpei Goto Society. (REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao/File Photo)

The first president born on the island, Lee's tough language towards mainland China resonated with Taiwan's 23 million people. He once described Taiwan-China ties as a "special state-to-state relationship", infuriating Beijing. He also sought to snap cultural links in favour of a distinct Taiwanese identity.

Lee's term as democratically elected president ended in 2000. His Nationalists lost the election that year to the Democratic Progressive Party, with former human rights lawyer Chen Shui-bian becoming president.

Some in the party blamed Lee for the defeat, saying his decision not to back its favoured candidate, James Soong, led Soong to stand as an independent and split the vote. His subsequent public support for pro-independence party candidates led to the Nationalist party expelling him in 2001.

He was indicted in 2011 on charges of corruption during his time in office – a move his allies said was aimed at discreditingRead More – Source