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Ex-DPP Chair Shih Ming-teh, who promoted ‘Kinmen, Matsu Peace Zone,’ passes away at 83

Known as Taiwan's Mandela, Shih dies from liver cancer at Taipei hospital

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Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chair Shih Ming-teh. (Shih Ming-teh Foundation photo)

Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chair Shih Ming-teh. (Shih Ming-teh Foundation photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chair Shih Ming-teh (施明德) passed away on Monday (Jan. 15), his family confirmed.

Shih suffered from liver cancer in recent years and received care at Taipei Veterans General Hospital.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and President-elect Lai Ching-te (賴清德) both expressed profound regret at the death of the human rights activist, who served as the DPP chair from 1994 and 1996.

Shih is remembered for his dedication to promoting the development of freedom and democracy in Taiwan from an early age. He attended the country's military academy at the age of 16 but at 21, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the independence movement when the then-Kuomintang (KMT) government began its four-decade period of repressive rule under the dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正).

Shih was released from prison after serving 15 years. In 1980, he was imprisoned again for his involvement in the Formosa Incident.

Spending a total of 26 years behind bars, Shih ended his imprisonment in 1990 and entered politics. Rather than being resentful, he chose to forgive, which earned him the name of "Taiwan's Mandela."

In Shih's later years, he advocated for the non-militarization of Kinmen and Matsu, Taiwan's two main outlying islands next to China, as a way to avoid war. In 2023, Shih published a book proposing the “Kinmen and Matsu Special Peace Zone Bill,” hoping it could be passed in the legislature as an "olive branch" to China.

In an article he wrote for Taiwan News, he explained the rationale of his advocacy.

Born during WWII, Shih said he knew the consequences of war and that there were no winners. As the world's second-largest economy, he believed it was too risky for China to invade Taiwan.

In response to China's ambitions to annex Taiwan, Shih pointed out that Kinmen and Matsu are Taiwan’s two most vulnerable places to Chinese attack, but that "arming Kinmen and Matsu is like burying a fuse right under the enemy’s feet."

Shih also thought the desires of Kinmen and Matsu residents were different from those living on Taiwan's main island. "We Taiwanese ought to consider the Chinese conflict from their perspective and give them back their basic right to decide their fate."

He urged the government to pass a bill to withdraw troops from Kinmen and Matsu and to make them non-military zones. He wrote that the move would not be a sign of weakness but wisdom to ensure peaceful stability across the strait.