"Taiwan: Policy Challenges, Choices and Democratic Governance" Tsai Ing-wen's Speech at Harvard University, Sept. 15, 2011

In a speech titled "Taiwan: Policy Challenges, Choices and Democratic Governance", DPP Chair and Presidential Candidate Tsai Ing-wen spoke at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies of Harvard University on Sept. 15, 2011. Below is her speech in full:

Good afternoon, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to visit Harvard University today. I would like to especially thank Professor Steven Goldstein for inviting me to speak here this afternoon. After two days of intense meetings in Washington, DC with administration officials, think tanks and politicians, it is great to have this opportunity to be here to exchange views with the next generation of future policy leaders.

Young people in both Taiwan and the United States are facing a rapidly changing world that is full of challenges and uncertainties. As a policy-maker, what interests me is the role of government in establishing the right institutions and providing the necessary public services so that future generations are equipped with the ability and opportunity to respond to these challenges. So a dialogue such as the one today, with some of the brightest young minds in the world, is a useful exchange that perhaps may help to stimulate new ideas for all of us.

When we look to the future, it is sometimes useful to strengthen our understanding of what has happened in the past, to put our analyses into a historical context. So let me start by offering my congratulations to Harvard University as you celebrate your 375th anniversary. Your institution is one of the oldest in this country and its history extends way before the founding of this nation.

About the same time Harvard was founded, written history and documentation of Taiwan also began to emerge on the international stage. Dutch and Spanish arrived in Taiwan in the 1620s and colonized the southern and northern parts of the island. Christian missionaries followed and brought with them the Roman phonetic transcription system, thus beginning written documentation in the languages of the indigenous people of Taiwan.

Over the past four centuries, both Taiwan and America experienced colonization, migration, wars, the establishment of government, and finally the inauguration of democracy. We may live in different places and speak different languages, but we share many of the same experiences and beliefs.

A common value that the US and Taiwan share is democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville published “Democracy in America” just less than six decades after the Declaration of Independence, foreseeing that democracy would dominate the world’s development. In the following years, the world witnessed the US grow under a democratic system to become a major force in the world – a force that continues to be the most important in maintaining global balance today. Democracy and freedom in the US have fostered a diverse yet inclusive society which has attracted talented individuals from all over the world. Together they have created the strength of the US that we still see today. At the same time, these democratic values that are upheld by the American people have inspired, and supported democracy movements around the world.

Taiwan’s democratic development came far later. Throughout the period of Japanese occupation, and then later the KMT arrival on Taiwan and imposition of Martial Law, there were constant efforts by local Taiwanese to demand greater political participation. Unfortunately their efforts were suppressed brutally by the Japanese colonial regime, and then later the KMT government that fled to Taiwan eliminated an entire generation of Taiwanese elites, through the 1947 massacre and the ensuing period of “white terror.” In the 1970’s, a new generation emerged during Taiwan’s economic boom, when more integration with the world fostered the rise of a civil society. Although opposition parties were stilled banned under Martial Law during this period, the predecessors and founders of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) initiated a new wave of democratic activism that pushed for reforms and basic political rights. Ultimately Martial Law was lifted in 1987, and by the 1990’s Taiwan began to hold its first general and free elections. By 2000, with the DPP’s winning the presidential election, Taiwan witnessed its first ever democratic transition.

I speak about this part of our history, because democracy has become the foundation of Taiwan’s national identity and the norm for political leadership in Taiwan. Yet our path toward democracy was a long and arduous process, which makes us all the more determined to uphold his value. We are a young democracy, and having the right to freely select our leaders and to determine our own future through the democratic vote is only a recent phenomenon, with vulnerabilities subject to internal and external challenges.

Therefore one of our top priorities and challenges in the coming years is the defense and consolidation of Taiwan’s democracy. Internally, there are a number of remnant aspects of the previous authoritarian one-party system that require reform: The enormous KMT party assets that have been accumulated over the years create an unfair playing field for multi-party politics in Taiwan. In addition, the legislative process and campaign financing regulations can be further improved to ensure greater transparency and accountability as well as fairness in the political system. Furthermore, leadership must be exerted to establish the full independence of the judiciary, so as to eliminate the possibility of political interventions. Current public confidence over the impartiality of the judiciary is low, and this problem must be addressed to ensure a fair and just legal environment.

Externally, the greatest challenge to our democracy comes from across the Strait. In recent elections, the Chinese government has exerted influence on Taiwan’s elections to compel their desired outcome. They have attempted to threaten the Taiwanese people, going so far as to launch missile tests during our first ever presidential election in 1996, and then issuing verbal threats in subsequent major elections. Lately they have emphasized the use of economic leverage which the Economist Magazine has characterized as “bribing Taiwan.” The long-term impact of these tactics is yet to be seen, but from our part we must be vigilant in defending our hard-won freedom to choose and decide our future.

We have on a number of occasions called on the Chinese government to engage in dialogue on the subject of democracy and human rights, and to acknowledge the existing political differences. Their insistence on a “one China” framework that denies the right of the Taiwanese people to decide on their own future, and utilization of economic, political and diplomatic leverage to compel Taiwan into their orbit of influence, runs counter to the desires and aspirations of our people.

It is obvious that in addition to disrespect for the political rights of the Taiwanese people, the Chinese government has imposed even more difficult constraints on the people of China. Even though it has carried out a policy of “reform and openness” since the 1980’s, enabling rapid economic growth, there has been very limited political progress. The arrest of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and continuing imprisonment of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo as well as many more human rights advocates, remain a significant problem and point of difference between the two sides across the Strait.

While we insist on upholding our democratic rights in Taiwan and protecting the independence of our sovereignty, the DPP and the Taiwanese people harbor no animosity toward the people of China. The current political and military stalemate across the Strait is a product of the evolution of history. The DPP is willing to look ahead and extend our goodwill to the people of China, and in particular, our support to those courageous activists who are striving for political freedom in China.

As I mentioned above, the emergence of a vibrant civil society was an essential foundation for Taiwan’s successful democratization. In recent years, although the development of an active civil society in China has been slow and painful, we believe it may turn into an important force for progress in China. We would therefore encourage dialogue and exchanges between our civil societies, especially among the young people, in hopes that it would lead to a more open understanding of the realities and aspirations of our peoples.

It is why in our approach to handling relations with China, I have spoken about the need to respect the process of building a “Taiwan consensus” as the foundation for engaging with China. The strategic goal is to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, an environment where the people on both sides have the freedom and opportunities to pursue prosperity and development.

Democratic consensus building is not only an essential procedure for dealing with the challenge of China’s rise and its impact on Taiwan, it also provides the political capital needed for leadership on tough domestic social and economic problems. In an open society, building consensus takes time, and sometimes the decision-making process could be slower than in an autocracy. However, I strongly believe that democracy must continue to serve as the basis for meeting a nation’s challenges.

Like the United States and others around the world, Taiwan is also dealing with the consequences of the global financial recession and high unemployment. Our young people, in particular, are deeply anxious about their future, and the assumption that a good education and training will secure a decently-paying job and lifestyle, no longer holds. This concerns me deeply, for I believe that the confidence of the younger generation to explore and innovate is essential for our country’s continuing development.

To examine the multiple aspects of the challenges facing Taiwan in the next decade, I recently announced a ten-year policy platform on behalf of the DPP, which contains eighteen chapters covering policy guidelines in social, economic, political and national security areas. Taiwan is in a situation where we are still striving to build and perfect our democratic institutions, and yet the world is rapidly changing in a way that is full of uncertainty. Like others in the global community, we are also faced with global common challenges of growing income disparities, economic stagnation, energy shortages, pollution, climate change, and security threats.

Taiwan is a maritime nation. Our survival depends on our openness and links to the world. These links bring about tremendous opportunities to the Taiwanese people, yet at the same time we have also suffered costs. For example, industry and trade that have brought about significant economic growth have also had a harmful impact on the natural environment. Therefore the previous growth-oriented economic strategy is not sufficient to deal with the complications of ongoing development. Recently, NGO activism in central Taiwan successfully blocked plans to build a new petrochemical plant that could potentially endanger oceanic life. This case illustrates the ongoing debate in our society about industrial adjustment and developmental strategy for our country.

The earthquake and tsunami disaster that devastated our neighboring Japan this March has reopened another very important policy debate in Taiwan, and that is the future of nuclear energy and the urgency of developing alternative energy sources. Taiwan currently has three nuclear power plants and a fourth that is being built, all situated on earthquake fault lines. For decades, government policy on developing nuclear power was not accompanied by a long-term plan for storage and processing of nuclear waste. And the Japanese experience reminds us that not only are the safety of our plants in serious doubt, the KMT government’s practice of dumping nuclear waste on aborigine land, or keeping the waste storage on the plant sites may have detrimental consequences in the long run.

We therefore took the initiative to announce a policy where Taiwan would reduce its reliance on nuclear energy, while developing alternative and sustainable energy sources, and by the year 2025 Taiwan will be a nuclear-free country.

This policy announcement was not without controversy. The maturity and costs of sustainable and clean energy sources have come under question, and the bureaucracy does not seem keen on making any departures from current practice. This is where political leadership is important. Our convictions and long-term vision for the future must be communicated with the public, forging a consensus, as we responsibly lay out the specifics of our plan to heavily invest in new energy production, transforming the landscape of Taiwan’s industry. For a few decades, Taiwan has led the world in IT manufacturing and various technologies, but the lifespan of the competitiveness of a new technology is being shortened as production shifts around the world and technologies are quickly replaced. We will require a new business model for Taiwan to sustain its overall competitiveness and to continue to produce the competitive jobs that the next generation will require.

While there isn’t enough time for me to go over all the policy challenges, I raise the issue of energy as an example. In fact many of our challenges mirror those you have here in the US: housing, social services, income disparities, jobs, fiscal debt and budgeting. The future government and leader of Taiwan must be able to respond to the anxieties of the people and offer realistic responses. There are no easy solutions, but in the process, accountability and leadership are important. By accountability I refer to responsibility to the people not only now, but to future generations as well. Very often political leaders get caught in the midst of day-to-day operations and constant election campaigning. What is popular in a single election is not always the best solution in the long-term. That is why in coming up with our policy guidelines, the DPP engaged in multiple level dialogues with our civil society, NGOs, academics, and former cabinet members, for we believe that participation and transparency are essential in a decision-making process. When confronted with highly controversial or difficult issues, leadership and communication with the public is essential.

This is the way in which I intend to continue to carry out my leadership of the DPP and of Taiwan in the future. Some people in Taiwan say that I am an atypical leader, that I appear more like a professor than a passionate politician. Indeed in real election campaigning charisma is important, it arouses passion and enthusiasm, and particularly for the DPP which has not had the kind of resources as the KMT to compete, the passion of our supporters has been the DPP’s greatest asset. I feel that passion brings about hope, which is important to boost confidence and energy. However, what we have learned in the recent history is that passion and charisma, while important, are not sufficient to govern. Governing requires the courage to confront challenging circumstance and to make difficult decisions. Governing also requires careful calculations of the costs and benefits as well as long-term impact of any policy decision. Furthermore, governing requires an ability to balance conviction and vision on the one hand, with an honesty to face the realities and difficulties on the other.

I expect that in addition to leading Taiwan in the next wave of democratization as we have in the past, the DPP will continue to also lead the public policy discourse in Taiwan. I agree with Vice President Biden’s remarks following his trip to China, that “Open and free societies are best at promoting long-term growth, stability, prosperity and innovation.” Democracy has fostered diversity and creativity in the American society, and it has been the basis for the strength of this nation. This is also what we expect for Taiwan as well. We will continue to mature into a democratic society where good governance practices are honored, and where the participation and involvement of our diverse society in policy discourse will produce the most productive and effective policies.

Democracy has become the common language between Taiwan and the international community, and it is the foundation for our engagement with the rest of the world. As a responsible stakeholder of the global community, Taiwan will continue to proactively seek opportunities to contribute to both democratic governance and the development of a global civil society.

Thank you again for giving me this opportunity to share with you my views on democratic governance and some of Taiwan’s next policy challenges. I look forward to your comments, responses and the chance for dialogue.