United States NSC mourns Lee as 'architect' of Taiwan's free society

08/01/2020 01:24 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Washington, July 31 (CNA) The United States National Security Council (NSC) offered its condolences Friday on the passing of Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), praising the former Taiwanese president as a "champion of freedom" and "architect" of Taiwan's free society.

Lee, who died Thursday at the age of 97, led Taiwan through a rapid and peaceful transition from one-party rule to democracy during his years in office, from 1988 to 2000.

After guiding the then National Assembly to adopt a series of liberalizing constitutional amendments, Lee won Taiwan's first direct presidential election in 1996, and presided over its first transfer of power, from his own long-ruling Kuomintang party to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2000.

In a Twitter post, the NSC wrote: "We offer our deepest condolences to the people of Taiwan and the loved ones of former President Lee Teng-hui, the first popularly elected leader of Taiwan. 'Mr. Democracy' was a champion for freedom and the architect of Taiwan's free and open society."

In addition to the NSC, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday lauded Lee for his role in cementing ties between the United States and Taiwan, and for a legacy in Taiwan that included ending decades of authoritarianism and ushering in "a new era of economic prosperity, openness, and rule of law."

Outside of the U.S. government, Cornell University, where Lee earned his doctorate in agricultural economics in 1968, published a long remembrance of Lee on Friday in its main campus newspaper.

Lee was "proud to call himself a Cornellian, and his commitment to academic excellence set an example for generations of Taiwanese students -- many of whom were inspired to follow his path to Cornell," the article quoted Cornell President Martha E. Pollack as saying.

Among those students, it went on to note, was current Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who earned her LL.M. degree from Cornell in 1980.

The article also recalled a 1995 address Lee delivered at the Cornell campus on Taiwan's democratization process.

The speech, titled "Always in my heart," sparked anger in Beijing, which responded with a series of missile tests in the waters around Taiwan now known as the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis.

However, it is also believed to have given Lee momentum ahead of Taiwan's first democratic presidential elections the following year, which he won with 54 percent of the votes.

Meanwhile, members of the Italian Parliament's Italy-Taiwan friendship association have expressed their condolences in a letter to the Taipei Representative Office in Italy, the office said Friday.

After hearing the news of Lee's death on Thursday, Italian Senator Lucio Malan, who heads the association, contacted Representative Lee Sing-ying (李欣穎) by telephone to express his sorrow, the office said.

On Friday, the association sent a letter offering condolences to Taiwan's government and people, and praising Lee for his contributions to democracy, human rights, religious freedom and universal values in Taiwan, according to the representative office.

Lee died in Taipei Thursday of septic shock and multiple organ failure, after having been hospitalized for nearly six months.

(By Chiang Chin-yeh, Huang Ya-shih and Matthew Mazzetta)

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