. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lee Offers To Travel To China For Peace

TAOYUAN, Taiwan -- Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui offered Monday as he was sworn-in for a new term to make a "journey of peace" to China but rejected Beijing's demand to halt his drive to raise the island's international profile.

In his inaugural address, Lee repeated Taiwan's desire to reunite eventually with China.

But his offer to travel to Beijing was conditional, couched in the populist language of the nascent democracy that returned him to power March 23 in the first popular presidential election in Chinese history.

"In the future, at the call of my country and with the support of its people, I would like to embark upon a journey of peace to mainland China," Lee said to applause from a stadium filled with Taiwanese and a smattering of foreign guests.

Lee offered to hold a direct exchange with China's leaders to open a "new era of communication and cooperation."

But analysts said his address lacked concrete initiatives to improve ties with communist China, which rattled Taiwan before the March election with weeks of war games and missile tests it said should frighten voters away from Lee and independence.

Conspicuously absent was any mention of ending a Cold War era ban on direct trade, investment, transport and other links with China, where Taiwan businesses have invested $20 billion by routing capital through Hong Kong, a costly detour.

Lee's praise of Taiwan's democratic system drew the biggest cheers.

"The Chinese who were regarded as dictatorial, feudalistic, penurious and backward by Western countries a century ago have created in the Taiwan area a new land of democracy, wealth and progress," he said, calling Taiwan a model for China.

Taiwan's 21 million people, inured to isolation but proud of their hard-won democracy, savored the moment with flag-draped, drum-beating parades, store discounts and a three-day weekend. However, Lee's historic swearing-in and speech gave little cheer to Taiwan's volatile financial markets, where stock prices plunged some 4 percent and the Taiwan dollar sank.

Lee's inauguration highlighted Taiwan's acute isolation in the shadow of China, which claims the island as a renegade province that must be integrated under Beijing's rule. Many countries did not send official representatives, accepting China's view that only Beijing is qualified for diplomatic recognition.