By Shyamal Sinha
Lee Teng-hui, who as president of Taiwan led its transformation from an island in the grip of authoritarian rule to one of Asia’s most vibrant and prosperous democracies, died on Thursday in Taipei, the capital. He was 97.
The condolences from the Tibetan leadership as exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama expressed his sadness by recalling his first visit to Taiwan in 1997. The octogenarian leader praised Mr. Lee’s contributions to Taiwan’s democratic reforms and noted that the best way to remember him would be to “emulate his dedication to democracy.”
The Dalai Lama regarded Mr. Lee as a personal friend and conveyed his condolences to his wife Mrs. Tseng Wen-hui and his family, “I had the honour of meeting your husband during my first visit to Taiwan in 1997 when he was the first popularly elected President. Subsequently, we met again in Taiwan and at Peace Forums elsewhere and I regard him as a personal friend.” He concluded his message by stating that former president Lee was an ally of the Tibetan people and did what he could to support them.
The President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), also known as the exile Tibetan government, Dr. Lobsang Sangay offered his condolences by noting his exceptional leadership on the island, “Mr. Lee steadfastly championed the cause of Taiwan nation and steered Taiwan through the historic transition from martial law to a full-fledged democracy.” He also highlighted the Dalai Lama’s first visit to Taiwan where the Middle-Way approach was first introduced to the Taiwanese people.
The Speaker Pema Jungney of the 16th Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) recalled President Lee as the Father of Democracy and said that he regarded His Holiness with the deepest respect. “Former President Lee regards His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a unique leader of the time and keeps him in high regard. With his support, CTA was able to form an Office of Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Taipei for the Tibetans,” he further remarked.
The first democratically elected President of Taiwan, Lee Ten-hui won in a landslide victory and was at the forefront of Taiwan’s democratisation during his tenure from 1996-2000. World leaders including Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe and US State Secretary Mike Pompeo also offered their condolences for his demise.
President Tsai’s office praised Mr. Lee’s achievements, saying in a statement, “The president believes that former President Lee’s contribution to Taiwan’s democratic journey is irreplaceable and his death is a great loss to the country.”
Taiwan became a separate political entity in 1949 after the civil war in China brought Mao’s Communists to power, forcing Chiang’s defeated government to flee to the island, some 100 miles from the mainland.