TAICHUNG, Taiwan - A leading dissident who fled China after pro-democracy protests were crushed in 1989 launched an election bid in Taiwan Friday, calling on the island's government to stand up to Beijing.
Former student activist Wu'er Kaixi, who has been barred from the mainland since fleeing after the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown, accused the Taiwan authorities of "self-censorship" in their approach to Beijing as he announced his candidacy for parliamentary elections.
Taiwan split from China in 1949 after a civil war and is self-ruled, but Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification - by force if necessary.
"In the last three, four decades, cross-Strait relations have been trying not to provoke Beijing, (there has been) self-censorship," said Wu'er Friday in the central municipality of Taichung, where he will run as an independent candidate.
"Compromise is not the way forward and patience is simply a delay tactic. Only by taking the initiative can the people of Taiwan take control of their fate." The vote for legislators in January will coincide with the island's presidential election.
Wu'er's candidacy comes at a time when support for President Ma Ying-jeou and the ruling Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) wanes due to a weak economy and increasing fears over warming ties with China.
The KMT is expected to lose its majority in parliament for the first time ever in the January vote and is also tipped for defeat in the presidential race.
Wu'er, 47, has lived in Taiwan for almost 20 years. He has tried to return to China on four occasions, but was denied entry each time.
Speaking to reporters Friday, he said he would push for Taiwan to amend its constitution so that it clearly reflected mainland China and Taiwan as separate entities.
"Actively changing the constitution... will come at a small price and will also give a voice to the people, challenging China and the West to release Taiwan from its shackles," he said.
But he insisted he was not trying to provoke Beijing, saying: "I'm offering a peaceful solution." Wu'er is running against two other candidates in a district of Taichung which has around 310,000 eligible voters.
Disillusionment with the KMT has been especially pronounced among Taiwan's youth, with a three-week student-led occupation of parliament last year over a trade pact with China.
New protests against "China-centric" changes to the high school curriculum saw 24 students arrested in the capital Taipei Friday after breaking in to the education ministry.
Wu'er voiced support for the students, calling youths the "future driving force" of society.
He had announced in December that he would stand in a by-election in Taichung, but later abandoned the plan.