The general secretary of Taiwan's biggest Protestant church, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT), has called on Christians world-wide to pray that last Saturday's national elections—which swept the Kuomintang (KMT) president from power—will usher in a new era for the island in which its sovereignty will be respected by the world community, especially the People's Republic of China, which is just 130 kilometers away. William J. K. Lo was speaking to Ecumenical News International (ENI) by telephone shortly after Taiwan's president-elect, Chen Shui-bian, a lawyer from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), visited the PCT's headquarters in the capital, Taipei, to thank the PCT for what Lo called its support for "democratic and human rights, and nationhood."The PCT has long been in the forefront of campaigning for Taiwanese independence and human rights on the island, which has been ruled for 50 years by the KMT. Many of the PCT's members and leaders have been imprisoned for campaigning against the harsh rule of the KMT, which has often attempted to crush dissent, and Chen Shui-bian has defended many members of the PCT in court.Although Taiwan has in effect functioned as an independent country for decades, both China and the KMT have maintained a "One China" policy, according to which Taiwan is part of China—though the two sides both maintained they were the rightful rulers of "One China."Since the handover of Hong Kong and Macau to Beijing's control, the Communists have stepped up their campaign to take over Taiwan.Before Saturday's election, Communist leaders in Beijing warned that Mainland China would see any move towards official independence by Taiwan as a provocation. These threats were apparently intended to deter Taiwanese voters from voting for Chen, whose party favors an independent Taiwan. After Chen's electoral victory, the BBC commented that Taiwan's voters had given Beijing "a poke in the eye."Lo told ENI that the pre-election comments from Communist leaders in Beijing had not been welcome. "We are quite clear about this [election], it was our own business. We don't need interference from others in our democratic process." He said that Chen had declared at a rally just before the election that Taiwan was in fact "a de facto independent nation, with its own constitution and military."Asked by ENI whether president-elect Chen would make an official declaration of independence by Taiwan—which would certainly cause deep anger in Beijing and could even provoke a military attack or invasion from the mainland—Lo said that Chen had pointed out that as Taiwan functioned as an independent nation, a declaration of independence was not necessary. (The Western press also speculated after Saturday's election that Chen was unlikely to take the risk of making a declaration. According to the International Herald Tribune, Chen "recognizes that very few Taiwanese are willing to risk their material well-being on a lunge for independence.")Lo said that Chen wanted in fact to "pursue peace" with China, to visit the mainland and invite China's head of state, Jiang Zemin, to visit Taiwan.Referring to the bitter past between the Communists in Beijing and the KMT, who fled the mainland for Taiwan after the Communist victory in the war on the mainland in the 1940s, Lo told ENI that the DPP victory on Saturday signaled that the rivalry between China and Taiwan was now over."This conflict [between the Communists and the KMT] has nothing to do with Taiwan," Lo said. "The KMT was from China, and it was China-oriented, but now the new government [in Taipei] is Taiwan-oriented. We elected Chen to show that there is no conflict between China and Taiwan. It is my prayer that Beijing will now change its attitude towards the Taiwanese people, and will respect our sovereignty and identity. We need the prayers of the whole ecumenical movement to understand that this island of 23 million people has a new government for a new era."Lo said Saturday's vote would boost the desire of Taiwan's citizens for their country to become a member of the United Nations, a move strongly opposed by China. He added that he hoped governments around the world would try to build links with Taiwan. (China refuses to have diplomatic links with any nation that has an embassy in Taipei, and only the Vatican and a small number of states, some of which receive aid from Taiwan, recognize the island nation.) However, Lo said that governments abroad could set up cultural and economic links with Taiwan.The PCT has 220,000 members, and is a member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches, both based in Geneva.Chris Patten, the European Commission's officer for external relations, has welcomed the DPP's victory in Saturday's elections. "Taiwan has made its democratic choice, and I congratulate Mr. Chen Shui-bian on his victory. I hope that the relations between Beijing and Taipei can develop in a peaceful and constructive way." Patten was the last British governor of Hong Kong. His democratic reforms of the colony in the years before its return to Chinese rule in 1997, caused deep irritation in Beijing.Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.

Related Elsewhere

The Toronto Star ran an Associated Press article about Chen Shui-bian's recent speech at a Presbyterian church.More news stories and links about Taiwan-China relations and the Taiwan elections are available at Yahoo!'s full coverage areas.