ITHACA, N.Y., June 9 -- Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui spoke before 3,000 alumni of Cornell University and their families Friday, stressing the role of democracy in his country, declaring communism dead, and urging a restoration of diplomatic recognition. Lee -- who was granted a waiver by President Clinton for the three-day visit over objections from Beijing -- received four standing ovations after his one-hour speech for Ivy League school's annual Olin Lecture. Outside the Newman Arena in Ithaca, about 300 students rallied under the flags of the People's Republic of China and Taiwan -- many supporting Lee's visit, others demonstrating against it. Inside the auditorium, Lee said he hoped one day to see a unified China where democracy reigns supreme. 'Ever since I became president...I have sought to ascertain just what the people of my country want and to be always guided by their wishes,' he said. 'And it is obvious to me that most of all they want democracy and development.' He added: 'Communism is dead or dying, and the peoples of many nations are anxious to try new methods of governing their societies that will better meet the basic needs that every human has.' Although he was critical of Beijing, Lee said he would not rule out a future meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Beijing has considered Taiwan a renegade province since the 1949 civil war, and on Friday, China criticized the United States for granting the waiver. The People's Daily, the official Communist Party organ, accused Washington of promoting 'two Chinas' and warned, 'the United States is jeopardizing Sino-U.S. relations and will pay a price.'
The Clinton administration has insisted that Lee's visit to his alma mater is a private one and does not contradict Washington's 'one-China policy.' That policy officially recognizes Beijing but not Taipei, and it has kept Taiwanese officials off American soil since 1979, when President Carter severed diplomatic relations. Less than a year ago, Clinton accepted slight changes in the Taiwan policy, as recommended by an inter-agency panel. The old policy prohibited government-to-government contacts with Taiwan or visits by its leaders. The new policy allows senior U.S. officials involved in business-related activities to meet with Taiwanese counterparts and permits Taiwanese officials to change airplanes at U.S. airports. Clinton did not send anyone from the White House to greet or meet with Lee, but the Taiwanese president's trip has included meetings with three U.S. senators, including Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C. On Friday, before the speech, Lee met with the U.S.-Taiwan Economic Council, which includes representatives of dozens of Fortune 500 companies eager to increase their trade with Taiwan. During his address, Lee said he thinks the United States and the rest of the world could be a lot more flexible. 'Frankly, our people are not happy with the status accorded our nation by the international community,' he said, urging greater diplomatic recognition. It had been 27 years since Lee was last on the campus of Cornell, where he studied from 1965 to 1968, receiving a Ph.D. in agricultural economics. He spoke warmly of his time at the school. 'This was a time of social turbulence in the United States, with the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protest. Yet, despite that turbulence, the American democratic system prevailed,' he told his fellow alumni. He added that it was at Cornell that 'I first recognized that full democracy could engender ultimately peaceful change. I returned to my homeland determined to makemy contribution toward achieving full democracy for our society.'