Democracy thrives amid China's war games

TERESA POOLE

Penghu

Even when the People's Liberation Army of China is doing its best to undermine the leading candidate's campaign, the democratic process in Taiwan still has its more routine aspects. Thus it was yesterday, when President Lee Teng-hui could be found reopening a renovated bridge, inspecting a temple, and addressing a town hall full of fishing folk on Penghu, a group of islands about 50km off Taiwan's western coast.

The toddlers were waving flags, elderly people were having orchids pinned to their chests, and the lion-dancers were roaring.

But while all this was going on, about 70km out at sea to the south-west, China had embarked on another day of live-fire war games. The Defence Ministry in Taipei said 20 groups of planes and 40 warships were out yesterday, a sharply higher figure than previous days, probably because the weather had improved.

Mr Lee, the front-runner for the 23 March presidential election, was showing no sign of buckling under pressure from Peking. "The man who they are most afraid of is me," he told one rally. "The Chinese Communists are very afraid of democracy and freedom. That is why they are so scared of this election. And that is why they use the manoeuvres to intimidate us."

It was the President's first visit to any of Taiwan's outlying islands since the PLA's manoeuvres and missile tests started last week, and it was a day to show defiance. The first stop was a private visit to the Penghu military headquarters, where he told troops and officers: "You have to take your responsibility, face reality, and keep a high alert." As for the crisis in relations across the Taiwan Strait, "Everything is under control, and do not worry," he said.

The Penghu archipelago - also known as the Pescadores - has 64 islands; some of them are far-flung and could be difficult to defend. Hsu Chu-chuan, the secretary of Hsi Yu, a fishing village, admitted: "I am not completely afraid, and not completely unafraid. There is some reason to be worried."

The Lee election convoy was in fighting form. The elected Governor of Taiwan, James Soong, said he was "shamed that a Communist regime in China is using force to try and intimidate us". But he promised: "Taiwan has the military strength to defend itself."

Emerging from the Tan-ho temple in Makung town, Mr Lee, a devout Christian, saw no harm in invoking another religion's spirit, Matsu, the protector of fishermen. "Matsu will never abandon Penghu, and myself as well will never abandon you," he told the assembled crowd.

Such electioneering flourishes come easily to Mr Lee these days, but it was not until he was over 50 that Mr Lee, now 73, found himself in politics.

As the island's first native-born President, Mr Lee has spent the best part of a decade in the political limelight. The son of a local government councillor during the period of Japanese occupation, the young Lee excelled academically and studied in Japan and the US, specialising on agricultural economics. After advising Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Chiang Kai-shek, on farming problems, in 1972 he was suddenly invited to become a minister of state, the youngest ever at that time.

By 1978 he was appointed mayor of Taipei city, and in 1981 promoted to Governor of Taiwan. In 1984 he was chosen by Chiang Ching-kuo to become his vice president, a watershed for an island state which had since 1949 been controlled by mainland Nationalist immigrants. In 1988, when Chiang Ching-kuo died, Mr Lee took over and stepped up the process of democratic change.

On 23 March, Taiwan's voters will for the first time directly elect a president, a sharp contrast with the rubber-stamp National People's Congress currently in session in Peking. "By voting you will express your democracy," Mr Lee urged his Penghu audience. "There is one thing [mainland China] does not know how to learn. That's democracy."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us