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Former Taiwanese President Pushes Taiwan Independence During US Visit

Former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui is calling on the international community to recognize Taiwan as an independent country. His comments came in Washington Thursday, following a private visit in which he met with U.S. lawmakers and members of the Taiwanese-American community.

When it comes to China, Lee Teng-hui, 82, is no stranger to controversy.

In 1995, Beijing was so angered by what U.S. and Taiwanese officials described as a private trip the then-Taiwanese president made to the United States, that it fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait.

China considers the island part of Chinese territory and has vowed to use force, if necessary, to prevent it from becoming independent.

Mr. Lee is no longer Taiwan's president. He stepped down in 2000, after 12 years in office. On this trip, he saw no Bush administration officials, but did meet with U.S. lawmakers.

In a speech Thursday, made entirely in Taiwanese, he said he had come to Washington in a private capacity, to learn more about the American democratic spirit.

He also indicated that his belief in Taiwan's independent sovereignty is stronger than ever. He pointed to what he called a totalitarian Chinese regime as the one of the greatest threats to Taiwan's democracy, saying Beijing has consistently sought to annex the island.

"For example, in the past, they launched missiles to threaten Taiwan, but the Taiwan people stood tall," he said. "Now, they adopt softer tactics such as economic profits to attract Taiwan people. However, the substance is still the same."

Mr. Lee said Taiwan should drop its official name, Republic of China, a title used by the Nationalist government that fled to the island after losing a civil war to the Communists in 1949. Nowadays, he said, the name leads to confusion.

"And also, for the name change to Taiwan, [it] is just so the international world can recognize us, and then recognizes us. Taiwan has long been an independent country. There is no need to promote Taiwan independence," he added.

Mr. Lee criticized unnamed Taiwanese political parties for working with China in trying to continue what he termed an authoritarian era. He said the maintenance of Taiwan's democracy is important for the world, and he called on support from other democratic countries.

In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry expressed opposition to Lee Teng-hui's visit to the United States. The Chinese government accused Mr. Lee of trying to spread his so-called "Taiwan independence" theory and to disrupt U.S.-Sino relations.

Meanwhile, Beijing's view that Taiwan is a part of China was echoed by about 60 protesters, who demonstrated against Mr. Lee outside the Washington venue where he was speaking. One Taiwanese-American woman called Mr. Lee a troublemaker.

"He wants to have a press conference and promote his idea of Taiwan independence," she said. "But most of the Taiwanese and the overseas Chinese, we don't like that idea. That will produce war with mainland China."

Before coming to Washington, Mr. Lee visited Alaska and New York. He goes to Los Angeles, before heading home to Taipei.