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Taipei to host 1st democracy forum

Taipei will host the first World Forum for Democratization in Asia biennial conference next week, with attendees including three former world leaders and prominent Asian human rights activists, officials said.

Taiwan Foundation for Democracy director Jou Yi-cheng said the forum was an opportunity for democracy activists from different Asian countries to share their experiences.

This biennial forum and the recently-inaugurated Democratic Pacific Union, are also outcomes of a new strategy devised by President Chen Shui-bian for countering China’s economic and military rise.

Chen’s strategy aims at linking regional democratic communities together to form a new balance of power that can support Taiwan’s democracy and put pressure on China to reform its political system.

“Sixty years ago, Asia was freed from the Second World War. In the past six decades, some countries achieved a high degree of economic growth and some of them even achieved a democratic system,” Jou said. “But now there are hidden crises...if democracy is excluded from the integration of new Asia, there will not be real peace and prosperity for the region.”

“We need to bring this very important element back to Asia to create an Asian civil society,” he said.

Jou said three former world leaders and former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui will attend a leader’s forum on September 15, the first day of the three-day conference.

He said the former world leaders came from both Asian and Western countries — but their identities could not be revealed at this stage as China could try to interfere with the process and block them from attending.

Other attendees include Singapore government critic Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party. He has been jailed by the Singaporean government for his political activities, such as making a speech in 1999 without official permission.

They also include one of China’s most prominent exiled dissidents, Xiao Qiang, a former Tiananmen Square protester. He will be representing the World Movement for Democracy, Jou said.

Some Korean participants are using pseudonyms as they do not want to be identified by the South Korean government, Jou said.

Jou said they were radical student activists in the 1970s who protested the South Korean government and pushed for the two Koreas to reunify.

In the 1980s, they went to North Korean and were disillusioned by its government. They now live in the U.S., Japan and China and help North Koreans fleeing its hard-line Communist regime, Jou said.

There will also be exiled Burmese democracy activists, representatives from Pakistani development organizations and Western academics, politicians and activists among the over 100 foreign guests. So far, China had not tried to pressure any of these guests from attending but “we are being cautious,” Jou said

The World Forum for Democratization in Asia, an initiative of the government sponsored Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, formed a working group to set up the forum last year. Members of the working group also included The Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia, Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, Forum Asia Democracy and Initiatives for International Dialogue.

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