- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

Taiwan’s former leader, in a visit to the United States that has enraged Chinese officials, said his country has achieved democracy and that its people deserve to live as “normal people in a normal nation.”

“What I want is for the people of Taiwan to have international recognition and have called for a new constitution that will guarantee their rights,” Lee Teng-hui said.

Addressing a packed National Press Club press conference amid a two-week private visit to the United States, Mr. Lee also said the country’s official name should be changed from the Republic of China to the Republic of Taiwan to reflect its separate identity.

Mr. Lee also accused China of trying to “annex Taiwan.”

After long threatening to use force, Beijing more recently has “adopted softer tactics such as economic profits to attract Taiwan’s people,” he said.

China’s communist leadership considers Taiwan a renegade province and sees Mr. Lee’s visit as an attempt to garner U.S. support. Beijing has threatened military action if Taiwan declares independence.

“We oppose him using the opportunity of the visit in continuing to spread destructive views on cross-strait relations advocating the independence of Taiwan,” Chinese government spokesman Li Weiyi told Beijing’s state press last week.

The Bush administration insists the Lee visit is a private one, and the former leader said he had not met with any U.S. officials during his Washington stay.

Mr. Lee’s previous private trip to the United States — to his alma mater, Cornell University, in 1995 — provoked a major diplomatic crisis, with China staging war games and firing missiles near the island to signal disapproval.

Although the United States does not recognize Taiwan, there are unofficial political, military and economic bilateral ties.

The United States says it does not support Taiwan’s independence, but also opposes any use of force by the mainland to reclaim the island.

The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act obligates the United States to help Taiwan defend itself.

In his nearly hourlong speech, Mr. Lee quoted both Chinese and European philosophers to explain Taiwan’s evolution as a democratic and multiethnic state.

During his 12 years in office, Mr. Lee infuriated Beijing with outspoken comments regarding Taiwan’s independence.

In 2000, he paved the way for a peaceful transition of power from the long-ruling Nationalist Party to the Democratic Progressive Party, ending several decades of one-party rule.

Supporters consider the 82-year-old the “father of Taiwanese democratic system,” and he still retains clout in his country.

Although insisting his visit was a personal one, Mr. Lee met 25 members of Congress on Wednesday, including House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican.

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