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Taiwan Exile--Brash Bid in Name of Democracy

June 02, 1986|DAVID HOLLEY | Times Staff Writer

Hsu Hsin-liang, the 45-year-old publisher of the Alhambra-based Taiwan Times, is a somewhat shadowy figure in the complex political and social world of Southern California's ethnic Chinese communities.

Living in political asylum in this country--and believing that agents of Taiwan's government might seek to harm him--he keeps the location of his home secret even from many of his closest associates. He leads a life of isolation, rarely appearing at public events.

But Hsu intends to grab an international spotlight later this year with an audacious attempt to take an opposition party to Taiwan--an effort that he says he will publicize by flying to Taipei to face probable arrest and imprisonment.

The scenario is patterned after the dramatic 1983 return of Benigno S. Aquino Jr. from the United States to the Philippines, where his murder upon arrival at Manila airport led ultimately to his wife becoming president, and the return last year of opposition leader Kim Dae Jung from American exile to South Korea, where he has inspired the reform movement despite frequent house arrest.

Political Convention

Taiwanese activists led by Hsu plan to hold a convention in August in the United States to organize an opposition party that would be called the Taiwan Democratic Party. Hsu and other political exiles would then "take the party back to Taiwan" in defiance of a government ban on such organized opposition.

"My view is that whatever they do--let me in or not, arrest me or not--what we are expecting is simply to trigger new momentum for the opposition movement," Hsu said in a recent interview. "This is our goal. So long as we achieve this goal, we are successful. So I really don't care too much what the government will do to me."

If opposition leaders in Taiwan decide to form their own party, either before or after his return, the Taiwan Democratic Party would revert to being an overseas support group for whatever new party is created in Taiwan, Hsu said.

During his seven years of American exile, Hsu has devoted his time to political organizing and publishing. His newspaper, the Taiwan Times, which claims a circulation of 5,000, serves as a voice for Taiwanese activists in this country. Married and the father of three teen-agers, Hsu said his family will stay behind when he returns to Taiwan.

Sense of Destiny

"If you want to be a serious political figure, you cannot think of your family too much, or you can do nothing," he said. "Sacrifice is our destiny, in a sense, and also our families' destiny."

Hsu--who from 1977 to 1979 was an elected county official in Taiwan--was one of five key organizers of the last major attempt to challenge Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) martial-law rule in Taiwan. He escaped arrest in a 1979 crackdown against leaders of that effort only because he happened to be in the United States.

His colleagues in what came to be labeled the "Small Group of Five" were among eight people charged and convicted of sedition for allegedly instigating an anti-government riot on Dec. 10, 1979, in the southern city of Kaohsiung. Four of those people remain imprisoned.

Hsu speaks intensely of the aspirations of the Taiwanese people--who speak their own dialect of Chinese and comprise 85% of the island's population--to control their own destiny rather than be ruled, as they are now, by a government controlled by people born on the Chinese mainland.

"Our Taiwanese movement is not only a democratic movement," Hsu said, "it's also a Taiwanese nationalist movement. . . . The interaction between overseas Taiwanese and the democratic movement in Taiwan is quite intensive. A lot of opposition leaders come out very often and have close interaction with the overseas Taiwanese movement."

One such opposition leader from Taiwan, Hsu Jung-shu, a member of Taiwan's Legislative Yuan and the wife of one of the leaders imprisoned since 1979, spoke enthusiastically of Hsu Hsin-liang's plans in an interview during a recent visit to Los Angeles.

The loosely organized tangwai (outside the party) opposition--which is not allowed to call itself a political party and does not have the same rights as a political party--is presently "the No. 1 enemy of the Kuomintang," Hsu Jung-shu said.

Opposition Strategy

"When Hsu Hsin-liang comes back, we become the No. 2 enemy," she said. "It will be safer for us. With his sacrifice, we can establish an opposition party. . . . When he comes back, the Kuomintang will arrest him. We'll get angry and excited, and announce the establishment of a new party."

Hsu Jung-shu predicted that this would happen shortly before elections for the Legislative Yuan and National Assembly that are scheduled for Dec. 6.

The scenario outlined by Hsu Hsin-liang and Hsu Jung-shu is taking shape at a time of sudden willingness by the ruling Kuomintang to consider political liberalization. Last month, authorities announced that, for the first time, opposition forces would be permitted to set up branch offices in several cities.

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