TAIPEI, TAIWAN - Twenty-six years after Wu'er Kaixi stood alongside young comrades to stare down People's Liberation Army tanks in Tiananmen Square, the Chinese democracy activist has his sights set on winning a seat in Taiwan's parliament.
Wu'er, a Taiwan citizen of nearly 20 years, and a rival from the pro-independence party have struck a gentlemen's agreement whereby the one with the least support will endorse the other in a bid to unseat the incumbent from the ruling pro-China Nationalist Party, also known as Kuomintang (KMT), in central Taiwan next year.
"The KMT needs to be normalized. It is an enormous monster," said Wu'er, an ethnic Uighur who fled China and ultimately made Taichung his adopted home in 1996.
"The biggest mission in this campaign is to deepen the democracy of Taiwan," said Wu'er, who will officially launch his campaign for a legislative seat Friday.
Taiwan votes for a new president and legislature next January, and expectations are growing that the main pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will win by a wide margin. Taiwanese youths, new political parties and others have been critical of the KMT's vision of a shared future with China. Police clashes with pro-democracy protesters in China-ruled Hong Kong last year have only deepened the political and military suspicions many islanders have toward Beijing.
Taiwan and China split after a civil war in 1949, and Beijing has never renounced the use of force to take back what it deems a breakaway province.
Wu'er was 21 when he infuriated Chinese authorities after joining the 1989 democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, which were forcibly suppressed when PLA troops and tanks fired on the unarmed, mainly student protesters.
During a June meeting between Wu'er and Chang Liao Wan-chien, the DPP contender vying for the same district legislative seat in Taichung, both men agreed to run campaigns on policy issues and to refrain from mudslinging.
Both are up against KMT incumbent Tsai Chin-long, who won the seat in 2012 with 51 percent of the vote.
"We have the same goal: to topple the KMT," said Chang Liao, a longtime city councilman in Taichung, the island's third-largest city.
The men said they would decide by mid-September who would stand when candidates officially register for the national election.