- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2003

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Tens of thousands of protesters waved green flags, played disco music and beat drums in Taiwan’s capital yesterday, demanding that the island change its name from the Republic of China (Taiwan) to Taiwan in a step toward independence.

A crowd estimated by organizers at 150,000 marched to a wide boulevard in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, where retired President Lee Teng-hui gave a rousing speech favoring the change.

Wearing a white baseball cap in the searing afternoon sun, Mr. Lee told the crowd that the Republic of China — which once included the mainland and Taiwan — stopped existing five decades ago when the communists took over China and renamed it the People’s Republic of China.

China now considers Taiwan a rebel province and threatens to attack the island if it ever formally declares it is an independent nation. China would see any name change as such a declaration.

“The Republic of China [Taiwan] no longer has any land,” said Mr. Lee, who governed the island for 12 years before retiring in 2000. “The Republic of China [Taiwan] is just a title.”

The 80-year-old Mr. Lee did not begin publicly advocating the change until after he retired.

Taiwan’s most likely defender, the United States, remains in deliberate ambiguity over what it would do if war broke out across the Taiwan Strait.

Most of the protesters were native Taiwanese, whose ancestors migrated from mainland China hundreds of years ago. Many Taiwanese still resent being ruled by Nationalists, the party whose government retreated to Taiwan after losing a civil war to the communists in 1949.

The Nationalist Party, in opposition since being ousted with the election of President Chen Shui-bian in 2000, says there is only one China and that it consists of the mainland and Taiwan.

Until about a decade ago, it was a crime on Taiwan to advocate independence.

But with the birth of democracy, calls for a formal declaration of independence from Beijing have become part of mainstream Taiwanese politics.

“Taiwan is a free and democratic country like the United States, but internationally we receive no respect,” said Liu Yu-nan, 42, a steel company worker. “Our standing has been damaged by the name ‘Republic of China,’ because as long as we keep using this name, we cannot be separated from China.”

Some demonstrators wore straw farmer’s hats and carried signs saying “Long Live Taiwan” and “Be Courageous and Love Taiwan.”

As loudspeakers blared folk songs and disco music, housewife Hsi Mei-yueh, 51, said, “Taiwan must use its own name to go out into the world.”

Mr. Chen, the current president, did not attend yesterday’s march, but said he told bank workers that he and his family would have participated if he were not head of state.

Top officials and lawmakers of Mr. Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party appeared at the event wearing green, the party color.

Mr. Chen’s biggest opponent in next year’s presidential election, Nationalist leader Lien Chan, told supporters he opposed a name change.

Polls show that an overwhelming majority of the island’s voters prefer to maintain the status quo, as opposed to defying China with an independence declaration. Still, the hot-button issue defines political loyalties.

Supporters of reunification with China planned to hold their own demonstration today.

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