Former president urges recognition of Taiwan independence

During his trip in the United States criticised by Beijing Lee Teng-hui call for "a normal life in a normal country". Chinese officials: "independence means war".

Washington (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui on Thursday called for international recognition of Taiwan's independence, concluding a trip to Washington strongly criticised, and monitored, by China.

Mr Lee, a fervent supporter of independence, spoke to a crowd gathered at the National Press Club about the mainland's threat to Taiwan democracy, and urged the international community to support Taiwan against Chinese aggression.

His speech came as Chinese officials branded Mr Lee a troublemaker and accused him of trying to ruin Chinese-US relations, and while outside the building about 40 protesters carried signs calling him a traitor and associating "Taiwan independence" with "war".

"Taiwan has long been an independent and sovereign country," Mr Lee said through a translator. "What I want is for the Taiwan people to have recognition in the international society, to live a normal life in a normal country."

He said that since receiving that recognition has proved so hard, he has also tried to get Taiwan to change its name from the official "Republic of China" to simply "Taiwan," adding that many people were confused "and even believed that Taiwan is a part of China."

The mainland strongly protested Mr Lee's travel to the United States, filing objections with the US State Department and refusing to believe Mr Lee's claim that he was a private citizen interested in visiting Washington's symbols of democracy.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy said Mr Lee was solely interested in spreading "secessionist theories". An official at the National Press Club said Chinese officials tried to get Thursday's speech scuttled.

Mr Lee led Taiwan from one-party rule to a multiparty democracy in the 1990s. His last US visit, in 1995, when he was president, sparked fierce protest in China, where officials accused him of advancing a campaign to win international recognition for the democratic island 160 kilometres across the Taiwan Strait from the mainland. After he returned to Taiwan, China lobbed missiles into nearby waters.