IMAGE: National Day parade in Taipei, Taiwan
Patrick Lin  /  AFP - Getty Images
Two Taiwanese soldiers participate in Wednesday's National Day parade in central Taipei.
updated 10/10/2007 5:57:59 AM ET 2007-10-10T09:57:59

Fighter jets streaked across overcast skies Wednesday as Taiwan held a National Day military parade for the first time since it halted such displays of war-fighting prowess in 1991 to ease tensions with rival China.

Before the parade, President Chen Shui-bian denounced China’s “totalitarianism” and its recent military buildup while renewing his vow to seek membership in the United Nations, saying his self-ruled island has the right to rejoin the world body despite objections from its communist-ruled neighbor.

Chen also urged the world to demand Beijing dismantle its hundreds of missiles deployed against Taiwan. “Only with China awakening to democracy will there be eternal peace in the world,” he said.

Taiwan stopped the military parades 16 years ago as it sought to improve relations with communist-ruled China following the island’s transformation to democracy. Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, and China still claims the island as part of its territory and has repeatedly threatened the use of force to stop any moves for formal independence by Taiwan.

The parade appeared aimed at easing public worries the island might be unprepared for a conflict with China. But an analyst said Chen also wanted to deliver a political message with Taiwanese voters ahead of next March’s presidential election.

Still in control
“Chen wanted to show that he’s still very much in control and still a leader who’s capable of integrating fighting factions in his party,” said Ho Han-chun, a political science professor of National Taipei University.

U.S.-made F-16s, French-made Mirages and Taiwan-made IDF fighters flew in formations above the presidential building to kick off the parade as ramrod-straight honor guards in blue and white uniforms wielded rifles on the ground.

Armored personnel carriers roared by along with navy radar and satellite communication vehicles. They were followed by launch vehicles carrying U.S. Patriot II and Avenger anti-missiles systems as well as indigenously developed ship-to-ship and air-to-air missiles.

Chen — who steps down in May after eight years in power — has campaigned to underscore the island’s sovereignty, including a push for a referendum to back his government’s bid to rejoin the United Nations. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party also passed a resolution last month to emphasize Taiwan’s separateness from China.

National Day marks the 1911 revolution that toppled the Qing dynasty and established the Republic of China, the first republic in China.

Taiwan’s opposition politicians refused to participate in official celebrations to protest what they see as Chen’s readiness to dump the island’s official name, which connotes eventual unification of Taiwan and China.

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