DPP Chairman Lin Yi-hsiung: "Promoting a free Taiwan"

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On 31 August 1998, Newsweek Magazine published an excellent interview with the newly-elected DPP Chairman Lin Yi-hsiung. A few excerpts from the interview:

Promoting a Free Taiwan

Eighteen years ago, Lin Yi-hsiung's mother and twin-daughters were knifed to death as they slept in the basement of their home. Lin, imprisoned by Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party, was powerless to protect them. The murders remain officially unsolved to this day.

And although the Nationalists lifted martial law in 1987 and now rule by virtue of elections, Lin -- who last month became chairman of the rival Democratic Progressive Party -- still opposes them. His goal: independence for Taiwan, rather than reunification with the mainland favored by the Nationalists.

Lin spoke with NEWSWEEK's Mahlon Meyer in Taipei. Excerpts:

MEYER: Have you come to feel differently about the murder of your family members?

Lin: The intense pain of that period has already passed. I am at peace with myself now. A lot of people say that it was the Nationalists that committed those murders. For me personally, and for my family, tracking down the culprits is not that important. But since these are things that occurred in our society, it's important to clear them up for the sake of social justice.

Did the murders affect your political ideals?

When I was in prison, I would ask myself: "How could a thing like this have happened?" My conclusion was that there must have been several conditions existing. The first was that we were subject to authoritarian rule for a long time. The other was that under this rule the character of the Taiwanese people was destroyed. These conditions were mutually interactive. So I decided in the future I wanted to overthrow this system of authoritarian rule. And wake people up so that kind of things that happened to my family would never happen again.

What are your ideals?

My basic ideal is to have Taiwan become a democratic, prosperous and independent country.

How were things different before the lifting of martial law allowed you to form an opposition party?

There was an enormous difference. At that time the atmosphere was so horrible that it was an extremely scary thing to take part in political activities. Some people would even refuse to have anything to do with you if you were involved in political activities.

The DPP supports Taiwan independence. If most people were opposed to this, as some polls suggest, would it prevent the DPP from having a shot at becoming the ruling party? (Other polls suggest an increasing majority in favor of independence -- ed).

Some people say that what we advocate is wrong. So they don't think it's right to support the DPP. But if you look at the trend of recent years, our supporters are increasing. We still haven't stated our beliefs clearly enough yet, so the people can understand. This is what we are working on.

Aren't your beliefs stirring up resentment and anger in China? Aren't you opening yourself to charges of being a troublemaker?

That's what people say. We see it differently. We feel that promoting Taiwan independence is good for Taiwan and China. We believe that China will probably change. After 10 or 20 years of work on both sides, China will no longer think it necessary to take over Taiwan.

Your predecessor, former chairman Hsu Hsin-liang, pushed for closer ties with China, including better trade links.

Those were not the politics of the DPP,. They were just the individual opinions of the former chairman. Of course, we all discussed his opinions. And there were some people who felt that he was pushing for better relations too quickly. Everyone agrees we want to have relations and dialogue with China. But we want to prevent China from taking advantage of the opportunity to hurt Taiwan's safety. We also need to have a plan for what we should do when we approach China. We don't want to just say, "Hurry up, hurry up and develop a relationship with us."

How did you feel about the case of Lin Ti-chuan, the DPP-politician recently murdered by thugs in China? The Chinese government initially refused to allow relatives access to the body and later would not let DPP officials accompany them.

The worst part of it is that the Chinese authorities did not consider humanitarian concerns. Family members wanted to have people that they trust accompany them to China to handle the details. This was a very small request. It had no bearing on any of China's political concerns. Taiwanese society found it unbelievable that China would refuse this -- unless it was just trying to hassle the relatives.

The DPP recently asked the government to cut ties with China. Does this represent a new hard-line policy?

The DPP must consider the widespread anger provoked in Taiwan by China's handling of the (Lin Ti-chuan) case. The current DPP policy is to promote exchanges, dialogue and friendly relations. But our attitude is that it is very difficult to promote friendly relations when they behave this way. Or that it may not be necessary to even pursue friendly relations anymore. We are not changing our policy. We are expressing our attitude. We will continue pursuing exchanges, dialogue and relations with China. But it is hard for us to put this policy into practice on account of this incident. We need to make our attitude clear.

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