March 15, 2001

Students React to Possible Visit of Lee Teng-hui Ph.D '68

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Some of Cornell’s Taiwanese students and supporters are enraged after the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) submitted an open letter demanding the cancellation of any proposed visit by Lee Teng-hui Ph.D. ’68, the former president of Taiwan.

The letter, addressed to University President Hunter R. Rawlings III was published in The Sun on Tuesday.

Last month, administrators did not confirm or deny that Lee may visit the University later this semester.

“We don’t have anything to announce at this time,” said Linda Grace-Kobas, director of the Cornell News Service.

Grace-Kobas added that she was misquoted by the Chinese World Journal as saying that she denied comment about Lee’s proposed visit.

As reported in a Japanese newspaper in February, President George W. Bush and his administration agreed to grant Lee an entry permit into the U.S., thus making his visit all the more possible.

The CSSA believes that Lee will only use a possible visit to the United States to profligate his own views about a separate, independent Taiwan.

“It is true Mr. Lee Teng-hui has, directly or indirectly, made generous donation to Cornell University. However, is he a sincere alumnus making an honest contribution to his alma mater, or is there any hidden motive behind his generosity,” the CSSA wrote in their letter.

They contend in the letter that Lee’s visit, as his previous visit to Cornell in 1995, would be, “a disaster to the U.S.-China-Taiwan relations.”

They mention that his previous visit led to disastrous conditions; yet supporters of Taiwan note that those conditions were completely in the control of China.

“No one forced China to react as it did and to prepare military exercises against Taiwan,” said Gary Lazarus grad.

As reported in February, the People’s Republic of China in Beijing conducted military exercises on the Taiwan Strait close to the island.

Some of the Taiwanese population here at Cornell as well as supporters of Taiwan’s cause feel that Lee should not be blocked from speaking here because it is a violation of the freedom of speech and the spread of knowledge across campus.

“If the CSSA feels that Lee should not have the right of speech perhaps they should use another right, the right of assembly to protest once Lee does arrive,” said Ricky Lin ’03, a Taiwanese-American student.

“I have personally heard mainland Chinese officials speak on the Taiwan issue here at Cornell and offer opinions that would offend many Taiwanese. Therefore, both sides should be allowed to voice their opinions in order to inform,” Lazarus said.

The CSSA believes that Lee would use any the U.S. or the University to promote his own views on Taiwanese independence and that is why he must be prevented from arriving here.

“Mr. Lee Teng-hui … has been taking deliberate steps to divide the Chinese territory and sovereignty in an attempt to separate Taiwan from China, to promote “‘two-Chinas’ or ‘one China, one Taiwan’,” the CSSA wrote in their letter.

Lin believes that the CSSA may have interpreted Lee’s message incorrectly and are over-reacting to his possible visit.

“However his [Lee’s] recent statements that led to the CSSA’s objection to his possible trip are all ambiguous and are open to interpretation. He even said in his 1995 speech that he wishes to open up a new era … leading to reunification under a system of democracy, freedom and equitable distribution of wealth,” Lin said.

This conflict stems from Lee’s beliefs on establishing Taiwan as a nation completely separate from mainland China and China’s support of the “One-China Policy,” which unites the country with Taiwan and other holdings under one Chinese government.

Lee was president of Taiwan for twelve years as well as being the first president of the island elected by its citizens.

Lin noted that the CSSA’s response to the visit may be unwarranted considering the long history of the two regions being separate, politically.

“Taiwan has been governing themselves independently since 1949, which is when the communists took over control of China. Taiwan has never formerly been under the control of … China,” he said.

The CSSA contends that although this interpretation is valid, Taiwan still has allegiance to mainland China.

“Taiwan is a part of China, a policy China and U.S. governments have mutually agreed with and acted upon,” the CSSA wrote.

This conflict has grown so rapidly across campus that supporters for Taiwan have organized to form the tentatively titled, “Cornell Students for an Open Society” which hope to gain enough signatures on a petition to allow Lee to speak on campus if that option should present itself.

“Our goal is to show that a good chunk of the Cornell community welcomes Lee’s visit,” said Eva Shen in an organizational e-mail to supporters of Taiwan.

Their goal, as reported in a Mandarin-English newspaper last Friday, is to match a proposed CSSA petition, to be presented to Rawlings.

Lin believes that this and any move is necessary to illustrate to Cornell administrators that not all the Chinese community on campus agrees with the CSSA’s standpoint.

“They claim to be the voice of the local Chinese Community who love their motherland, but in fact they are only one student organization of people,” Lin said.

Although Lee’s visit has only been speculated and not confirmed, the conflict between these two sides may not subside for a long time to come.

“We are emotionally attached to our national integrity to a tremendous extent and fully support the ‘One China Policy’ … Taiwan is a part of China,” the CSSA wrote.

Archived article by Carlos Perkins