Kyodo News Report


Ex-Taiwan leader Lee calls for changing Constitution, official name

Friday, October 21st, 2005

Washington DC -- Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui said Thursday that Taiwan should change its official name, the Republic of China, to raise its identity both at home and abroad while crafting a new constitution to protect democratic rights.

"What I am saying is that what I want is for the Taiwanese people to have recognition in the international society and to have a normal life in a normal country," Lee said in a press conference at the National Press Club, stressing that he is not calling for Taiwan's independence.

"So I have called for the forming of a new constitution so that we can protect the democratic rights gained by the people from the democratic efforts, to put that into the Constitution to guarantee their rights," said Lee, who is making his first visit to the U.S. capital amid criticism from China. "And also the name change to Taiwan is just so that the international world can recognize us," he added.

Meanwhile, some 50 people gathered in front of the National Press Building, criticizing Lee for allegedly seeking Taiwan's independence and causing trouble with China. The protestors held up placards, such as those saying, "Go away, Lee Teng-hui," "We want unification" and "We want peace."

Lee has been labeled by Beijing as a separatist during his 12 years in power until 2000. China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, has repeatedly warned that it will use force if Taipei moves toward independence.

The U.S. government has also repeatedly cautioned both China and Taiwan against taking any unilateral action that undermines the status quo under its "one-China" policy of recognizing Beijing as the sole government of China but maintaining unofficial ties with Taipei.

Lee said he has never called for the independence of Taiwan during his 12 years as president and is still not doing so, but noted that he is free to explain Taiwan's identity problem more clearly now that he is out of office. "Taiwan has long been an independent and sovereign country," he said. "There is no need to promote Taiwan's independence."

Lee said he tried his "utmost" as president to earn Taiwan's international recognition but his efforts were not successful."Not only did most of the international community not recognize the Republic of China, they often confused the Republic of China for the People's Republic of China, and even believe Taiwan is a part of China," he said. The PRC is the official name of mainland China.

"Such mistaking the democratic Republic of China for the totalitarian People's Republic of China has seriously hurt Taiwan's democracy and its people," Lee said.

Lee said he has come to realize that there are only two options -- having the world recognize ROC's existence or changing the official name to seek international acceptance. But he said, "Experience has told us that the first option is very difficult to achieve. Therefore, we are only left with the second option."

His first visit to the U.S. capital came amid harsh criticism both toward Lee and the U.S. government from China, which had even reacted strongly to Lee's past trips as a private citizen mainly for visiting his alma mater, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

The U.S. government has refused to comment on Lee's visit, calling it a trip by a private citizen. It has not allowed Taiwan's government leaders to visit Washington since its diplomatic recognition changed to Beijing from Taipei in 1979.

Lee said he has not met with any U.S. administration officials, saying, "I have come here in a private capacity." But Lee was greeted by U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday, delivering a speech on democracy at a reception on Capitol Hill.