Lee Teng-hui Passes Away on July 30, Leaving Complicated Legacy
World Journal, July 31, 2020
Former President Lee Teng-hui of the Republic of China (Taiwan) passed away on July 30, at the age of 98. Lee Teng-hui was the first president to be elected by popular vote. In his 12-year presidency, he not only dominated, but also manipulated Taiwan’s politics. He was once internationally known as "Mr. Democracy,” who later also became “the Godfather of Political Corruption” who swept through Taiwan’s political arena. His reputation during his lifetime was polarized and hard to give a final judgement even after his death.
Pompeo Pays Condolences and Praises Lee’s Bold Reforms
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of the United States issued a statement on July 30, expressing condolences on behalf of the American people. He praised Lee for ushering in a new era of economic prosperity, openness, and rule of law, playing a key role in bold reforms, making Taiwan the beacon of democracy as it is today and also consolidating the long-standing friendship of the United States and Taiwan.
Lee was hospitalized in the Taipei Veterans General Hospital on February 8th due to aspiration pneumonia and heart failure, and confined in bed for a total of 174 days. Due to old age and multiple chronic diseases, he suffered repeated infections during his hospitalization. He developed severe pneumonia and septic shock on the 20th and fell into a coma on the 23rd. When he was last infected, the medical team had used the strongest antibiotics until his organs failed to function anymore.
Before Lee’s passing, his wife Lee Tseng Wen-hui, two daughters, daughter-in-law, granddaughter and family members were by his side. The respirator was worn until the last minute, and was removed after he passed away.
President Tsai Ing-wen stated that Lee Teng-hui was a pioneer of the times, leading Taiwan through a quiet revolution and making Taiwan a Taiwanese people’s Taiwan.
The Kuomintang (KMT) issued a statement saying, “Lee was once the chairman of the KMT, but he also directed the KMT to a completely different stage." Former President Ma Ying-jeou’s office stated that although Lee’s political idea had undergone tremendous changes after he stepped down, Ma still appreciates Lee’s contribution to the country.
Lee was born in 1923, and once joined the Communist Party. He obtained a doctor’s degree in agricultural economics from Cornell University, returned to Taiwan and became an elite that the KMT government carefully promoted. He was once a minister without portfolio of the Executive Yuan, mayor of Taipei City, governor of Taiwan Province, and vice president. After Chiang Ching-kuo’s death in 1988, Lee Teng-hui succeeded as the head of state in accordance with the Constitution, and was elected as the first directly elected president in 1996 after the Constitution was amended. He completed his term of presidency in 2000.
Lee Led Six Constitutional Amendments and Established Direct Presidential Vote
During his administration, Lee led six constitutional reforms, terminated the “Temporary Provisions during the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion”, established direct presidential elections, opened direct elections for mayors, and alter the operational institutions of Government, winning the title of "Mr. Democracy."
To break the cross-strait deadlock, Lee help to materialized the Koo-Wang talk in 1992, but in 1995, he went to Cornell University, which caused China to stop cross-strait dialogue, and launched a Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996. In 1999, He proposed “the theory of two states” which illustrated cross-strait relations as a "special state-to-state relationship" and further led to the freezing of cross-strait relations. On top of that, his remarks on the positioning of the country had gradually evolved from a believer in "national reunification" to being regarded by all walks of life as the "Godfather of Taiwan Independence.”
Impact Across Both the KMT and DPP But Let Gangster and Money Pollute Politics
Lee’s political influence spans across the blue and green. After becoming the chairman of the KMT, there became a dispute between the mainstream and the non-mainstream members within the party. In the end, the KMT split, which led to the establishment of a new party.
He was once also so close to James Soong that they were like father and son, but their relationship was torn apart by the abolition of Taiwan Province. During the 2000 presidential election, he could not effectively integrated Lien Chan and James Soong which not only lead to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) seize of presidency for the first time, but also make the KMT divided once again, and Soong established the People First Party.
After Chen Shui-bian became president in 2000, Lee and Chen were described as "Moses and Joshua." But afterwards, due to different opinions regarding the agricultural financial reform, and Chen continuously being reported of malpractice, Lee was threatened by Chen during his hospitalization with the secret accounts of national security in his reign, their relationship as soul mate was no longer the same.
When Ma ran for Taipei mayor in 1998, Lee raised Ma’s hand and called Ma a "new Taiwanese." But after Ma became president, Lee’s criticism to Ma was both harsh and ruthless.
When Tsai ran a presidential campaign for the first time in 2012, Lee supported her and gave a speech on her campaign stage while he just recovered from a serious illness, and gave her a big embrace on stage.
During his tenure as president and chairman of the KMT, Lee indulged Liu Tai-ying, the chief treasurer of the KMT, to use huge amounts of party assets and party-run undertakings to engage in money politics. To preserve power, he tried his best to win over big conglomerates, local factions, and even let people with mafia backgrounds to run for public office. This turned Taiwan politics into an arena deeply polluted by money and mafia. He therefore was criticized as “The Godfather of Political Corruption.”
It is understood that Lee will be buried in Wuzhishan Military Cemetery in Taipei.