Outspoken Taipei legislator makes return to mainland

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2005, 12:00am

Li Ao vows to speak out for Taiwan during his speeches

Renowned Taiwanese author-turned legislator Li Ao arrived in Beijing yesterday for a widely watched visit that had become the talk of Taipei even before he touched down on the mainland.

'I am returning after 57 years. I am finally returning alive,' the 70-something writer, historian and television commentator said on his arrival at Beijing airport.

The sharp-tongued author - invited by Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV for a 12-day visit to the mainland, where he will give three speeches - said he was ready to debate with anyone.

'And I must say those who criticise or oppose me are likely to lose,' he said.

Instead of planning to visit places to refresh childhood memories of his first 13 years spent on the mainland, Mr Li said the place he most wanted to see was Beijing's Qincheng Prison because he had been jailed in Taiwan for dissent and he hoped to visit the prisoners there.

But he admitted his wish was unlikely to be granted because the prison, which houses political prisoners and criminals, was too sensitive.

Mr Li, now an independent legislator in Taiwan, is being accompanied by his entire family - his 30-year-old wife, Wang Hsiao-tun, 13-year-old son Li Kan and his 11-year-old daughter.

He will also be joined in Beijing by his equally sharp-tongued 30-year-old daughter from another relationship, Li Wen.

Before leaving Taiwan, Mr Li criticised the government of President Chen Shui-bian for its 'hypocrisy' in failing to print the word 'Taiwan' in Chinese on the island's passport.

The passport cover only bears the word in English - an arrangement apparently made to avoid provoking Beijing, which does not recognise Taiwan as a state.

But Mr Li stressed he would speak out for Taiwan during his speeches to be delivered at three noted universities - Peking University and Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Fudan University in Shanghai.

'I love Taiwan and will definitely speak for it,' he said.

Peking University will be the highlight of Mr Li's trip as his late father, Li Ting-yi, graduated from the institution.

In an interview with the Taipei-based China Times, Mr Li said he was in favour of the 'one country, two systems' solution to the cross-strait impasse. But he would still advise Beijing that the unification issue required time instead of military threats.