TAIPEI – Taiwan bid farewell on Saturday to late President Lee Teng-hui, dubbed "Mr. Democracy" for ending autocratic rule in favor of free elections and championing Taiwan's separate identity from China.
Lee's memorial service took place in the shadow of Chinese war games, as did his election as Taiwan's first democratic leader in 1996. China claims the island as its own territory.
Taiwan said Saturday it scrambled jets in response to the approach of Chinese jets for the second day in a row, escalating tensions further as a senior U.S. official was on the island for talks.
"Twelve J-16 fighters, two J-10 fighters, two J-11 fighters, two H-6 bombers and one Y-8 ASW crossed the midline of the #TaiwanStrait and entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ," Taiwan's defense ministry said in a statement, referring to its air defense identification zone.
It said Taiwan's air force "scrambled fighters, and deployed air defense missile system to monitor the activities."
In a separate statement the ministry said China was carrying out provocative activities, seriously damaging peace and stability.
“The Defense Ministry sternly condemns this, and calls on the mainland authorities to control themselves and pull back from the edge.”
On Friday, China carried out drills in the Taiwan Strait, including sending 18 fighter jets to buzz the island, as Beijing expressed anger over the visit of the senior U.S. official.
Lee was president from 1988 to 2000.
His greatest act of defiance was becoming Taiwan's first democratically elected president in March 1996, achieved with a landslide following eight months of intimidating war games and missile tests by China in waters around the island.
Those events brought China and Taiwan to the verge of conflict, prompting the United States to send a carrier task force to the area in a warning to the Beijing government.
Speaking at the memorial service in a chapel at a Taipei university, President Tsai Ing-wen said he had shaped the Taiwan of today.
"Confronted with daunting international challenges, he skillfully led the people of Taiwan by promoting pragmatic diplomacy. Taiwan became synonymous with democracy and was catapulted onto the world stage. Because of this, President Lee came to be lauded as Mr. Democracy," Tsai said.
"Thanks to his efforts, Taiwan now shines as a beacon of democracy."
Lee, a committed Christian, died in July at age 97.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Keith Krach, the U.S. undersecretary for economic affairs, also attended the memorial, which included a eulogy from the Dalai Lama via a prerecorded video.
"I admire his commitment to democracy and freedom … as his close friend I always remember him and as a Buddhist I always pray," the Dalai Lama said. Like Lee, the Dalai Lama is also branded a "splittist" by Beijing which accuses him of seeking Tibet's independence from China.
Lee's remains will be interred at a military cemetery next month.
Mori met with Tsai on Friday. He previously led a delegation of parliamentarians comprising members of a cross-party group and officials of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, Japan's de facto mission in Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, to pay their respects to Lee at a memorial in Taipei on Aug. 9.
Calling Mori and his delegation Taiwan's "old friends, good friends," Tsai expressed gratitude for their visit.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China on Friday of "military blustering" as Beijing conducted military exercises during Krach's visit.
The same day, Krach held closed-door meetings with Taiwan's premier and other top officials before joining President Tsai for dinner at her official residence.
"I'm sure the productive discussions we had today will bring Taiwan & the US even closer together & open the door to further collaboration," Tsai tweeted.
U.S. President Donald Trump has embraced Taiwan more closely as a way to hit back at Beijing, especially as he seeks re-election in November.
He has also approved some major arms sales, something his recent predecessors were more reluctant to do.