Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Taiwan leader calls for democracy

Taiwan's president Ma Ying-jeou called on China to respect his country's right to self-determination

Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou has urged China's government to pursue democracy and respect his island's self-governance as both sides mark the centenary of a revolution that ended 2,000 years of imperial Chinese rule.

Both Taiwan and China - which split amid civil war in 1949 - commemorate the October 10 1911 start of an uprising against the Qing dynasty as a seminal event, and both sides have sought to use the centennial as an opportunity for dialogue.

But Taiwanese authorities have rejected suggestions to jointly host events, fearing that Beijing will use them to highlight its "one-China principle" that places the island under mainland rule.

On the eve of the centenary, Chinese president Hu Jintao made an appeal in Beijing for both sides to move beyond the history that divides them and work together to achieve a peaceful reunification. Taiwanese people are wary of those calls, fearing they may lose their freedoms and democracy once the two sides are reunited.

At a ceremony in front of the presidential office building, Mr Ma said that the Beijing government "must not forget the ideals of our founding father and should move boldly toward freedom, democracy and the fair distribution of wealth."

His brief speech was followed by an hour-long arms display in which jet fighters flew in ranks over the spacious square and tanks and missile-loaded trucks rumbled past. Pilots in red jumpsuits parachuted from helicopters in front of Ma.

China's centenary commemorations have had clear political and nationalistic undertones, but Taiwanese public interest in the event has been lukewarm. Most Taiwanese do not want to come under China's control, and do not see the events of 100 years ago as particularly relevant to their future.

The ceremony marks the centennial of Sun Yat-sen's armed uprising on a Qing dynasty garrison. The attack set in motion events that led to the overthrow of imperial rule and raised hopes that China could emerge from more than a century of national humiliation at the hands of foreign powers.

The Republic of China was established after 2 and a half months. It later fled in disarray to Taiwan in 1949 following the victory of Mao Zedong's Communists over Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists in the Chinese civil war.

China regards Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to invade should it seek formal independence. Under Mr Ma's initiative, Taiwan has moved closer to China economically but has refused any political dialogue to settle the self-ruled island's future.

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