President Lee: "Taiwan is Taiwan"

Taipei, 17 February 1999

Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui is reportedly edging closer to the position traditionally taken by the democratic opposition on the island.

At a Lunar New Year gathering is his hometown of Sanchih, he told a festive crowd during a luncheon meeting: "It can be said for sure that Taiwan is an independent state, Taiwan is Taiwan. This is a clear matter." The address was reported by several major local newspapers and by the Agence France Press news agency.

President Lee added that the message would be conveyed to Beijing when the two sides resume high-level negotiations.

The step represents another move by Taiwan to assert itself internationally as a free, democratic and independent country. It signals China that Taiwan wants to live in peace with its bigger neighbor, and that a peaceful future between the two countries can only be brought about if there is mutual diplomatic recognition between Taiwan and China.

The two sides have been engaged in a running diplomatic -- and sometimes military -- battle for several decades following the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, when the defeated Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek were driven from China, and occupied neighboring Taiwan, which had been under Japanese rule until the end of World War II.

For more than four decades, the native Taiwanese (85 percent of the island's population) were harshly repressed and did have little say in the island's political system. Only after the end of Martial Law in 1987, and the first democratic elections on the island in 1992, was it possible for an opposition party to function freely, and were the people on the island allowed to express themselves on the future of the island.

Since then, an increasing proportion of the population has expressed its support for Taiwan's independence, and its participation in the international community as a full and equal member.

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