Signalling a more proactive political approach towards Taiwan, India Friday condoled the death of former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui and called him “Mr Democracy”.
India’s statement, laced with political overtones, is being perceived as a thinly-veiled message to China at a time when the armies of the two countries are in standoff positions along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
Lee, who was Taiwan’s President from 1988 to 2000, passed away Thursday at the age of 97.
An official statement by the India Taipei Association, India’s diplomatic mission in Taiwan, said, “India Taipei Association joins the people of Taiwan in mourning the passing of Taiwan’s ‘Mr. Democracy’, Dr Lee Teng-hui.”
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In line with its One China policy, Delhi has economic and people-to-people ties with Taipei. China’s moves along the Ladakh frontier have led to calls to recalibrate India’s approach, and strengthen ties with Taiwan. Taipei is keen on expanding cooperation as it considers India important in its New Southbound Policy.
“Dr Lee’s leadership and vision helped deepen democracy and economic prosperity in Taiwan. We express sincere condolences to Dr Lee’s relatives, friends, and numerous admirers in Taiwan. May his soul rest in eternal peace,” the Indian mission said on its Facebook account.
Responding to the statement, the Foreign Ministry of Taiwan (Republic of China) said, “Late President Lee Teng-hui made historic contributions to the transition to and the strengthening of democracy in Taiwan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to thank India and the India Taipei Association for expressing their condolences.”
“We will continue to uphold the free and democratic principles he held dear, and continue to work with India and other like-minded countries to strengthen our cooperative ties and ensure peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the wider world,” its Foreign Ministry said.
With India following the One-China policy, New Delhi’s mission is extremely careful in its statements, and it doesn’t issue politically-loaded statements on Taiwan — like the one issued on Friday. In fact, the Indian government opened its mission (ITA) in Taiwan in 1995 during Lee’s tenure.
India’s pivot towards Taiwan was witnessed last month with New Delhi choosing a high-profile career diplomat as India’s next envoy to Taipei. And the statement Friday is the first major statement since diplomat Gourangalal Das took charge as envoy mid-July.
After the death of Chiang Kai-shek’s son Chiang Ching-kuo in 1988, Lee actively worked towards making democracy a reality in Taiwan — much to Beijing’s annoyance.
In 1996, the first direct presidential election in Taiwan, he was democratically elected with a landslide for a second term.
As President, Lee got rid of laws that came in the way of democratic development, overhauled the legislature, carried out free legislative elections, and allowed people to vote for their President for the first time.
Current President Tsai Ing-wen is considered Lee’s protege and appears to be following in his footsteps.
After Lee’s death, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Friday said it had noticed the news and that “Taiwan independence is a dead end”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Lee a crucial player in transforming Taiwan into a “beacon of democracy”.
The Dalai Lama, in a letter to Lee Teng-hui’s wife Tseng Wen-hui, wrote, “His contribution to Taiwan’s democratic development was an exceptional achievement. Today, Taiwan is a vibrant and prosperous democracy with a rich cultural heritage. Perhaps the best tribute we can pay him is to remember his courage and determination and emulate his dedication to democracy.”
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