Tsai Ing-wen's Full Speech at the 57th Congress of Liberal International

DPP Chair and Presidential Candidate Dr. Tsai Ing-wen's Full Speech at the 57th Congress of the Liberal International in Manila, the Philippines with the central theme: 'Human Rights and Trade'.

Manila June 19, 2011

Liberal friends and colleagues,

It is my honor and pleasure to be among fellow liberals, particularly in such a session with political leaders from Africa, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Although I am a relative newcomer to the circle of political leaders, I feel like I am among family. The warmth and support that Liberal International has shared with the Democratic Progressive Party over the past years, tied together by our common values and beliefs, are exhibited today. My party and I are proud to be part of this global network, and we will continue to seek a proactive role in promoting a liberal and democratic global agenda through Liberal International.

I am especially pleased to be able to take part in my first Liberal International Congress here in the Philippines, Taiwan’s closest neighbor. Like the Philippines, over the last few centuries, Taiwan has been through periods of colonialism, war, and rule by authoritarian regimes. Yet our peoples have diligently worked to lift our nations through a period of rapid economic development and into the modern industrial age. And in the mid- to late- eighties, our peoples staged peaceful revolutions that inaugurated an era of modern democracy in the region.

Yesterday evening several hundred Taiwanese living in the Philippines hosted a political rally for me at Club Filipino, a site that also commemorates the 1986 People Power revolution. That was the same year that we broke the ban on opposition parties under Martial Law and established the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan. And although we continue to cope with challenges in our not yet perfect political systems, our two nations were indeed part of a wave of democratization that demonstrates to the world: Contrary to the claims of a few Asian leaders, we Asians are perfectly capable of building systems and institutions of democracy in which the people are empowered to make decisions about their future.

While we celebrate the political achievements of our fellow member parties who lead their nations toward democratic progress, we must bear in mind that there are others who are in much more difficult conditions, and it is our duty as fellow liberals and democrats to extend our concern and support toward the freedom fighters and democracy activists who continue to struggle in tremendous hardship. Among CALD (Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats) members, for example, Sam Rainsy, who is here today (another speaker) has been deprived of his parliamentary immunity and has no choice but to campaign in exile. The LI Prize for Freedom recipient Chee Soon Juan of Singapore is banned from leaving his country and thus cannot be with us here today. Another member party, the Burmese National League for Democracy, had been struggling under conditions where the basic freedoms of many of their leaders and members were restrained. Even though some rudimentary progress is now happening in Burma, there is a long way to go before free and fair elections can become a reality.

The even greater challenge for those of us interested in promoting democracy in Asia is China. The rise of China that is authoritarian impacts not only Taiwan’s international survival, it has far-reaching consequences around the world. Therefore it is important for us to work with the rest of the world, especially those concerned about the future of democracy, to engage constructively with China, to ensure that China’s rise is peaceful, stable, and consistent with responsibilities we would all expect of a great power.

The theme of this Congress, Human Rights and Trade, is particularly pertinent as we deal with China. The Congress concept paper asks the question: How do we balance basic human rights with economic interests? All too often, in the current state of the global political economy, economic leverage is applied to silence critics on human rights; economic strength is also utilized as a base for expanding political and military influence. I don’t think we would be so uncomfortable with China’s economic rise if it weren’t for the fact that it is an authoritarian government. Recent moves by the Chinese government to intensify its internet censorship and control, the arrests of more bloggers, lawyers and activists and even artists such as Ai Weiwei, are worrisome. This, added to more aggressive international behavior, most notably in the South China Sea, creates many challenges that we as liberals must jointly face.

We are operating in an extremely complex environment, where there is a shift in global power on a systemic level. The United States, which has dominated global politics since the end of the cold war, is over-extended overseas and limited in capacity by rising domestic economic and social troubles. In the meantime, China is rapidly growing in a complex web of global interdependencies, both positive and negative: advances in technologies, transportation, and communication on the one hand, with degradation of the environment, the spread of nuclear weapons, growing income disparities and social unrest on the other. We are all relevant parties to China’s growth, and yet we must all bear together the environmental, security and social consequences.

The international debate around how to deal with China surrounds two main arguments. Some optimists believe that more engagement with China will give the outside world an opportunity to have an influence on changing China, integrating China into conformity with international rules, norms, and standards of behavior. Others see China continuing on the same path: Liberalizing economically but maintaining an authoritarian system that is also capable of modernizing and adapting to changes. The pessimists worry that a rising China that is authoritarian will attempt to develop an alternative world order, and that a balance-of-power strategy is needed to contain such a scenario.

We in the DPP believe that both integration and balance are needed. Integration generates opportunities for business and travel, and it will give more and more Chinese people a chance to witness and experience alternative political systems. At the same time, we must balance and hedge against risks, managing the relationship in a way that would safeguard our values and interests.

From a Taiwan perspective, we believe it is in our best interest to deal with China in a multilateral framework, where international rules and regulations help to balance China’s growingly asymmetrical leverage and influence. We must be practical as our business community takes advantage of the growing economic opportunities in China, but at the same time we must be vigilant in guarding our most cherished values, mainly democracy and human rights. The reality is that over a century apart, the two sides across the Taiwan Strait have evolved distinctly. Our politics and societies have evolved on different paths, and we in the DPP are particularly committed to preserving the free choice of the Taiwanese people to determine their own future. Yet at the same time, we also recognize that there are commonalities and shared interests, and that is in the joint pursuit of peaceful development. Therefore the DPP is also committed, for we see it as part of our responsibility to the international community, to play a part in preserving peace and stability in the region, and in establishing a peaceful and stable mechanism for interacting with China without compromising our values.

Our doors are open to Chinese visitors who are sincerely interested in understanding the DPP. At our party headquarters and through our think tank, we have engaged in dialogue with some visiting Chinese delegations. We have also taken initiative to invite Chinese dissidents and activists, some of them exiled overseas, to organize election observation trips. Hopefully through such exchanges we can enhance understanding to minimize the chances of miscalculations, and we can also help the Chinese people and government better understand the functioning of the democratic system that we have worked so hard to build.

In dealing with China and other countries, one of the multilateral frameworks for raising human rights questions and promoting democracy is through party-to-party networks such as Liberal International. As political parties representing liberal values, we are not constrained by traditional state-to-state diplomacy that needs to take into account varying sectors of domestic interests and calculations of international power. Of course, whether in and out of government, we must always have a realistic grasp of international circumstances and the conditions under which we operate. But as a political network we also stand for values, and it is our values and policies that distinguish our existence from other political parties. The benefit of having a network to act, instead of leaving the pressures to individual political parties to bear, is that collective and multilateral action adds strength to our voice. Who can better articulate a collective voice of principle, a voice of ideals, and a voice of belief in democracy and human rights, than a network of liberal political parties?

That is why we, the Democratic Progressive Party, has chosen to be a proactive member of Liberal International, doing what we can to help strengthen the network’s presence in Asia and with a particular emphasis on human rights.

Although my party has been through a very difficult period since our electoral defeats in 2008, our commitment to the promotion of democracy and human rights is unwavering.

In April my party decided to nominate me as its presidential candidate for the next election in January. We have been through a difficult three years in our domestic politics, but I believe my party’s selection of me not only as leader of the party but also presidential candidate, illustrates a collective desire for our country to move forward. We must build on past achievements, but we must also constantly reflect and renew, so that we can enhance our competence and refine our capacity to govern, and hopefully we will win back the mandate next year.

It is our hope that as we move forward in upholding our values and pursing our public policies, we will continue to have the support of our liberal friends around the world. There is much to learn from each other, whether we are in or out of government. And from our part, the DPP is proud to continue our active participation through this international network of political parties committed to freedom, liberty, democracy and responsible government.

As we are here enjoying the hospitality of the organizers, I also hope that in the near future we will have an opportunity to host all of you Taiwan, as the governing party, too. But before that we have tough election campaigns for the President and the legislature. The blessing and concern of LI member parties for us in previous election campaigns are memorable and much appreciated. You are all more than welcomed to come through Taiwan again to observe our upcoming elections in January, and we hope we can count on your continuing support for Taiwan’s democracy as we celebrate a new era in Taiwan’s democratic progress.