Taiwan's former president Lee Teng-hui, who earned the nickname "Mr Democracy" for the part he played in the island's transition away from authoritarian rule, died Thursday aged 97, the hospital treating him said.

He was credited with paving the way for Taiwan to become a modern, free society after decades of one-party dictatorship and became a champion of the island's bid to be treated as a sovereign state internationally.

Lee Teng-hui pictured in 2015
Lee Teng-hui pictured in 2015 AFP / Toshifumi KITAMURA

Lee had been in hospital since February after choking on some food and had a history in recent years of chronic illnesses.

"He died of septic shock and multiple organ failure today despite the medical team's all-out efforts to revive him," Taipei Veterans General Hospital vice president Hwang Shinn-jang told reporters.