World leaders send condolences after passing of former Taiwan president

US secretary of state praises Lee Teng-hui for “transforming Taiwan into beacon of democracy”

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On March 27, 1997, Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, left, holding hands with the Dalai Lama at their first meeting in Taipei.

On March 27, 1997, Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, left, holding hands with the Dalai Lama at their first meeting in Taipei. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Leaders in countries friendly to Taiwan have expressed their condolences on the passing of former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who died on Thursday (July 30) at the age of 97.

The Dalai Lama, who paid tribute to Lee in a statement, said the late Taiwanese politician was a personal friend. The two met on various occasions, including the Peace Forums and following Lee’s election as Taiwan’s first directly elected president.

Describing Lee’s contribution to Taiwan’s democratic institutions as an “exceptional achievement,” the Tibetan spiritual leader believes the best way to honor the figure is to “remember his courage and determination and emulate his dedication to democracy."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement lauded Lee as one who “helped put an end to decades of authoritarianism and ushered in a new era of economic prosperity, openness, and rule of law.”

The top American diplomat also stressed Lee’s role in driving democratic reform in Taiwan and cementing ties between the two countries. The U.S. will continue to “strengthen its bond with Taiwan and its vibrant democracy through shared political and economic values” in honor of Lee’s legacy, Pompeo said.

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his “profound sadness” over Lee's passing in a brief talk at his residence on Friday (July 31). Lee made tremendous contributions to the amicable relationship between Taiwan and Japan, CNA quoted him as saying.

Other prominent political figures in the East Asian country have expressed gratitude to Lee, who had a lifelong interest in Japan. These included Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and House of Representatives Member Nobuo Kishi, the latter hailing Lee as the “father of Taiwan democracy” and “a great philosopher in Asia.”

Also relaying their condolences were Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, including Honduras, Belize, Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Somaliland, Guatemala, Eswatini, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Saint Lucia, Paraguay.

Lee, who introduced direct elections to Taiwan and pushed for constitutional reforms amid the Chinese military threat, died Thursday evening from organ failure. He had been suffering from multiple infections since being hospitalized in February.

His presidency lasted from 1988 to 2000. In 1996 he became the first president of Taiwan to be elected by popular vote.