Professor Fell of the Center of Taiwan Studies, distinguished scholars, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
It is my absolute delight to come to this great country, a country I had a chance to visit before but have longed ever since for a more formal visit. My wish has come true today, and it is my great honor to address you, prominent scholars and brilliant students in this important academy of Asian and African studies.
Here I would like to stress the very basic concept of “responsibility” as my philosophy in domestic politics, economics, and international relations. It has carried me before, and will continue to carry me and my party toward the future.
While visiting London, I cannot but think of democracy, the modern political system that finds its origin here. It is not an overstatement to say that I come here as a pilgrim to the holy shrine of democracy. I am very happy to tell you today that democracy has become a value deeply rooted in the hearts of the Taiwanese.
The model of a democratic political system has inspired many other countries, including my own. In Taiwan, martial law had ruled for 38 years until 1987. The simple yet noble ideal of having democracy rid us of political tyranny motivated the people of Taiwan to bravely pursue our great transformation. In 1986 with martial law still in effect, I and 17 other members risked our lives to found the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the first opposition party in Taiwan, to embark on the path to democracy. We did this not to gain power, but to be responsible for the long-term development of Taiwan, and to be responsible to our children and grandchildren. This responsibility led us to establish a political system in which the government could be held accountable.
After much effort and sacrifice, martial law and the emergency decree were abolished and this paved the way for parliamentary elections in 1991 and 1992, and even further to a direct presidential election in 1996. We have since been able to elect the president and the members of the parliament regularly and openly. We have come a long way to where we are today, and I am fortunate and proud to not only witness but also take part in the transformation process.
In addition to this enviable political development, Taiwan’s economy grew well after the 1970s. At one time Taiwan was even termed an economic miracle. As it stands now, the size of Taiwan’s economy is the 23rd in the world and its trade volume the 18th. For a small country, Taiwan’s economic achievement is something we are quite proud of, too.
Taiwan now is a wonderful, friendly, and safe place that attracts millions of visitors from all over the world, including more than two million Chinese last year. Just for your information, a former Dutch ambassador, a former Belgium Ambassador, and a former American ambassador chose to stay in Taiwan after their retirement. Their decision says it all about Taiwan.
Searching for answers to meet challenges
Even though Taiwan is enviable in many regards, we face challenges just as all others do. The DPP may not be in office now, but we consider making alternative policy proposals to meet the challenges of our responsibility.
On the trade issue, the DPP has always considered openness and free trade the best way for Taiwan to go. When we were in the government, we had quite a significant degree of liberalization, including joining the WTO. We also went through the opening of the cross-strait mini-three links, direct charter flights and welcoming Chinese visitors for tourism or commercial purposes. We fully supported ANZTEC with New Zealand and ASTEP with Singapore last year, and this is a clear indication of our support for free trade.
In the last few years, Taiwan has experienced a sharp decline of investment from and trade with major economies. The result is an over-concentration on China, but this has the Taiwanese worried. After all, China is still threatening Taiwan politically and militarily. People also worry that the government signed economic agreements with China, including the Service Trade Agreement, without prior consultation and proper oversight as normally would have been done in other countries.
To strengthen Taiwan’s trade and economy, I have been arguing for structural reform, including streamlining rules and regulations and simplifying bureaucratic procedures. I have also been arguing for an FTA with the EU; at least we need to conclude the Trade Enhancement Measures. We should fully open up to each other; I know it is in our mutual interest to do so. Moreover, the DPP also fully supports Taiwan’s participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), as soon as possible, to effectively diversify our trade and economic relations.
There have been considerable debates in Taiwan about nuclear power. We have three plants in operation, and are on the way to build the 4th one. This gives Taiwan the largest number of nuclear power plants in the world proportionate to its geographical size. Please do not forget that all of those plants are located very near active fault lines. The 4th Nuclear Power Plant has been under construction for 14 years without any safety report. The disaster in Fukushima in 2011 serves as a lesson for the Taiwanese: 300,000 relocated Fukushima residents are still not able to return home, and we have more than 6 million residents within the same radius of the plant under construction.
Now more than 70% of the people in Taiwan oppose the completion of the power plant, and the DPP stands firmly with them. The DPP considers green, renewable, and sustainable energy the only way to go for densely populated Taiwan, not highly controversial and potentially dangerous nuclear power. After all, Taiwan is the world’s number one producer of solar panels and has longer hours of sunshine than countries such as Germany. We would like to follow the good example of the UK and other European countries by setting the target of renewable energy at 20% in 2025, as opposed to the government target of 9%.
We also consider media freedom one of the most important pillars to sustain Taiwan’s democracy. But in the past few years, some important international watchdogs such as Freedom House have substantially downgraded Taiwan’s ranking in media freedom. Last September, a vicious power struggle between the president and the speaker of the parliament revealed that the government has conducted rampant wiretapping of elected officials, even on the general exchange line of the parliament. Situations like this led some prominent international observers to worry that Taiwan’s democracy might be backsliding.
The DPP is very concerned that what we have fought so hard to accomplish might be chipped away by the remnants of the past dictatorship. We opened the door for democracy, and will never allow it to close. We have worked hard, and will continue to do so, to safeguard our democratic way of life.
The China Factor
China presents to Taiwan not just a business opportunity; it is the single most important factor in Taiwan’s foreign relations. China has widely applied the “one China principle” on virtually every matter concerning Taiwan to highlight its claim of sovereignty over Taiwan. As a result, the Taiwanese are the only people in the world who cannot normally participate in major international organizations. The agony of the Taiwanese in this regard is far beyond your imagination.
In fact, Taiwan’s status is clear: we have a popularly elected president; we have a popularly elected parliament; and the government exercises exclusive jurisdiction over the territory under its control. Moreover, only the citizens of Taiwan can vote in Taiwan’s elections; only the citizens of Taiwan are taxed by the Taiwan government; and only the citizens of Taiwan serve in Taiwan’s military. Taiwan in reality is independent.
The DPP’s position, as embodied in the 1999 Resolution Regarding Taiwan’s Future, is that Taiwan is an independent and sovereign country, and any change to the status quo must be approved by the people of Taiwan through democratic means. In other words, the DPP is a political force guarding the status quo. Now the DPP is glad to see that our position has become a consensus in Taiwan. I must emphasize here: democracy is our core value and we are ready to defend it at any time, and it should be respected if there is to be a genuine peace across the Taiwan Strait.
More serious than diplomatic isolation is the military threat. China has never renounced the use of force, and has deployed more than 1,800 missiles aimed at Taiwan, even though Taiwan is not a threat at all. Perhaps we can have a better picture of China by looking at the regional strategic dynamics. China has been rapidly arming itself without any tangible threat on the horizon, and it has been expanding its “core interest” over disputed territories and waters. The latest move was the announcement of its East Sea Air Defense Identification Zone, which covers part of those of Taiwan, Japan and Korea. It is more than clear that China is attempting to change the status quo, as stated by senior American, Japanese, Korean and Australian officials.
The DPP is also paying close attention to the development in Hong Kong. It is sad for us to see, after the transition in 1997, huge numbers of Hong Kong people continuing to pour out onto the street just to make a humble request for a chance to elect their political leader. Quite a few Hong Kong democratic leaders have come to us and told us to treasure what we have in Taiwan and not cave in to become part of China; some of them even pay for newspaper ads in Taiwan to make their point. While the international community in general may not be able to provide much help to those democrats in Hong Kong, Taiwan is gradually seen as a life-vest and as a beacon of hope and strength.
In this regard, I must express my appreciation to the EU for not lifting the arms embargo, for the nature of the communist rule today is the same as in 1989. The EU decision is a clear signal to its friends and allies in East Asia that it supports peace and not expansionism. I am sure millions in China and Hong Kong will also say freedom and human rights do mean something to Europe.
Taiwan stands on the frontline of China’s expansion, and Taiwan in essence is “the canary in the coal mine” and can serve as an example to other countries that may have some dispute with China. We also understand that democratic Taiwan, although small, has become a hope of Chinese and Hong Kong democrats and we have responsibilities to them, too. We stand ready to defend our democracy, and we will not give in. Here I would like to copy Winston Churchill, who said in October 1941, “Never give in, never, never, never!”
Ladies and gentlemen, the DPP came into being by the people and for the people of Taiwan, and is destined to serve the people. We are eager to carry the responsibility to move Taiwan ahead economically and politically. Right now I feel the heavy load on my shoulders, for I have to work hard to move the DPP back into the driver’s seat. I believe our time will come soon because the DPP is a better choice than others. That is what the surveys say these days.
Even though Taiwan and Europe may be far apart, we are linked closely together by the values of freedom and democracy. The DPP hopes to continue to work with Europe in safeguarding our common values. My promise is that I will continue to shoulder the responsibility in this regard. I also hope the UK, the oldest brother of all democracies, pay more attention to our part of the world and give us more support in the fight for our values and our survival.
Thank you very much.