Tsai Ing-wen's Remarks at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Sept. 13, 2011

DPP Chair and Presidential Candidate Tsai Ing-wen was invited to speak at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. on September 13, 2011. Below are her remarks:

Taiwan’s national security challenges and strategies in the next decade

Thank you Dan, and thanks to the American Enterprise Institute for hosting me here today, and for providing me the opportunity to speak to the many American friends who are here. Since I became Chair of the Democratic Progressive Party three years ago, I have made annual trips to Washington, to engage in dialogue on policy and strategies. These annual trips demonstrate the importance that the DPP places on our relations with the United States. Today I come here again, not only as Chair of the DPP, but as a presidential candidate, and a candidate with a good chance of winning! So while I enjoy seeing my friends here in Washington, either the United States will have to change its policy on senior official visits from Taiwan to Washington, or unfortunately, for the next four or eight years, it is not likely that I will be able to come here again, and we can only meet face to face in Taiwan.

That is why I very much cherish this opportunity, and although this is a short trip in the middle of a very intense campaign, I look forward to engaging in profound dialogue with American friends and partners on our bilateral relationship, and our vision for the future.

Ten year platform

A few weeks ago the DPP’s Central Executive Committee passed a ten-year policy platform, which outlines the challenges and circumstances Taiwan faces in the next decade. The platform contains eighteen chapters covering a wide range of issues, from agriculture and environment to technology and industry. It is a product of intense discussions among former DPP cabinet ministers, advisors, academics, NGO’s and party representatives. The formation of this platform adds policy depth and sophistication as the DPP prepares for the opportunity to govern again. It aims at identifying the key challenges Taiwan faces in the next decade and proposes responsible guidelines for responding to those challenges.

We are operating in a far more complex global environment than ever before, where the world is characterized by a web of interconnected transnational challenges such as the current economic crisis, epidemics, poverty, energy shortages, climate change, war, and terrorism. At the same time, we are in the middle of a systemic change, where the post cold-war global structure of US dominance in determining the world order is affected by serious economic and financial problems here as well as the uncertainty of how emerging powers such as China will evolve. Domestically, although our GDP has shown some positive growth numbers since the financial crisis a couple years ago, like here in the US, we have a crisis of escalating government debt, the loss of jobs, and a growing wealth disparity where the average income for the working person is actually declining. There is no doubt that our domestic economic and social challenges are also linked to the global environment, and there are no easy solutions. But the pragmatism, diligence, and creativity of the Taiwanese people have helped our country overcome many challenges in the past, and we have no choice but to be confident that through good governance and responsible leadership, Taiwan will continue to survive and prosper.

I believe our next election outcome will ultimately be determined by social and economic issues, just as it is in many democracies around the world. In recent local and by-elections since 2008, the DPP has successfully defined the agenda for domestic politics by leading the public debate on housing, social services, energy, and industrial adjustment. And gradually we have regained the confidence and trust of the Taiwanese people, tested again and again through successive elections and by-elections. Our rebound is apparent, but we fully understand that when we govern Taiwan again, we must not only respond to the social and economic needs of our people domestically, we must also shoulder responsibilities as a stakeholder in the international community. That would involve having a realistic grasp of the challenges in the international environment, and carrying on with a national security approach that is balanced and stable.

US Relations

In our view, the United States is Taiwan’s most important and reliable partner in international relations. The United States, acting in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, is the only country in the world committed to supporting Taiwan in our defense and security. But the relationship is not only one with a legal basis and realist common interests. The friendship extends deep into the emotional sentiments of the Taiwanese people, who value the multiple dimensions of trade, cultural, educational, and historical interactions that we have had. We in the DPP cherish this relationship and seek to continue to reinforce the comprehensive ties with the United States.

On the top of the agenda when engaging with the US is to rebuild strategic confidence and reinforce the strategic partnership. We acknowledge that toward the end of the previous DPP administration there were diverging views on strategic priorities, and our relationship went through a rough period. Indeed, the US is a global superpower with far-reaching global interests and a complex agenda with China, and Taiwan is a smaller state working to consolidate our young democracy internally while facing the threat of marginalization in our external relations. There are times when our interests will merge, and there are also times when we will have different priorities. However, as partners in a strategic relationship, we believe it is important to understand and communicate those priorities, ensuring a degree of strategic confidence that the broader agenda of a common interest for peace and stability is not jeopardized.

At the moment one of our priorities is to maintain the strategic balance across the Taiwan Strait, and this would involve the Taiwan military receiving adequate support from the US to defend ourselves. While peace and development appear to be the common lingo across the Strait at the moment, we understand that peace must be backed by a commitment to security. Despite the conciliatory attitude of our current government toward China, the military buildup across the Strait has not ceased. Instead recent developments of the PLA in advanced weapons systems and naval capabilities have tipped the balance in China’s favor, and Taiwan’s ability to deter and defend against the use of force will no longer be credible unless we demonstrate our commitment to investing in Taiwan’s self defense.

We would welcome a decision by the US to provide Taiwan with advanced defense systems that are deemed necessary through a process of mutual consultation between our militaries and defense experts. The DPP, and in particular our legislative caucus, has expressed disappointment in the Ma administration’s lack of dedication to a strong defense in the apparent declining budget proposals submitted. When we come back to government, the situation must be rectified by a stronger demonstrated commitment. But we understand it is not only a matter of budgeting and acquisitions of highly publicized items like the F16’s. Our general preparedness, and the intensity of the day to day operational interactions between our militaries and defense experts, are also crucial. In addition, we must also re-examine the value of our conscription service, seek the right balance between a professional voluntary force and conscripted servicemen, and put in place policy incentives for the development of a domestic industry that is capable of developing and supplying our military with some of the systems needed.

Another important priority in our strategic relations with the US is to ensure regional peace and stability, and this involves expanded cooperation and coordination with regional countries, especially the US and its allies. Taiwan is willing and able to play a constructive role in dealing with transnational security issues, such as humanitarian relief, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, and cyber security. Already, intelligence cooperation led to the intervention in a shipment of sensitive materials to North Korea a few years ago, and Taiwan has cooperated in controlling the export of dual-use technology products to Iran. On the matter of disputes in the South China Sea, to which Taiwan also has our stakes and claims, the DPP has a position that supports the freedom of navigation and the settlement of disputes through a multilateral framework and international law. We emphasize aspects of maritime cooperation and sustainable development in our policy, and we are willing to engage in dialogue to ensure international cooperation on this matter.

While we expect support from the US for Taiwan to be more proactive in regional security affairs, it is not a one-way scenario. We believe it is within our mutual interests, and we have been ready to reciprocate as a responsible stakeholder. As we commemorate ten years after the 911 tragedy, I want to remind you that it was during our DPP administration that Taiwan stepped forward as one of the largest foreign donors to the post-Afghanistan war-on-terror reconstruction effort. We stood ready without hesitation to provide logistical support to US efforts in Iraq, and our government also contributed significantly to the Pentagon memorial. When I was the Deputy Premier, I was personally involved in coordinating efforts with American friends to enhance our export control regulations to curtail the flow of sensitive materials to dangerous areas.

For decades US support for Taiwan has been critical for the peaceful environment that has enabled prosperity and development. The people of Taiwan and the DPP will continue to play our part in nurturing the strategic partnership. From the US, we hope that our friends will recognize the anxieties that Taiwanese people feel about regional balance and marginalization, and while preoccupied with other interest around the world, we expect the US should keep Taiwan on the agenda as a reliable and committed partner relationship that requires reinforcement.

China Policy

Now let me turn to China, which is always a subject of interest in our dialogue with the United States. Some of our policy challenges regarding China overlap with those facing the United States, and we have a common interest in dealing with these challenges in a coordinated manner. For example, we both face the issue of a more aggressive Chinese military in the region, with “core interest” claims that threaten the freedom of navigation and regional stability. However, our relationships with China are fundamentally different in nature, and some of our policy responses may not be entirely the same. That is why it is absolutely important that we constantly communicate our objectives and our strategies, to ensure a norm of predictability and consistency in our relationship that serves as a foundation for confidence when we deal with China.

For Taiwan, China is the most complex policy challenge that is manifested in economic, social, political and security realms. Since interaction across the Strait began in the late eighties, systemic changes on a global level, as well as profound interaction between the people on two sides on a micro level, have complicated the relationship to the extent that stated ideology and political positions are not sufficient to handle the complexity of the challenge. So while we must be clear about our strategic goal and approach, we must also allow adequate flexibility for more sophisticated management of the relationship.

In the party’s ten-year policy platform, there are two chapters that lay out the guidelines for dealing with China: a chapter on national security strategy, and one on economic relations with China. I have on many occasions presented my thoughts on this subject matter. In case there is any doubt, let me again share with you our strategic goal, approach, and policy toward China.

The overarching goal of managing relations with China is to maintain a peaceful and stable environment so that the Taiwanese people can have the opportunities to develop a prosperous economy, while preserving our hard-won political freedoms and way of living. Ultimately, we want to ensure that the right to determine Taiwan’s future rests in the hands of the people of Taiwan, and any change of the status quo must be agreed by the people of Taiwan through democratic means.

At the moment, most Taiwanese seem to accept the status quo where Taiwan is by all practical definitions already an independent country, and although people are frustrated by international discrimination, the desire to maintain political separation from China is commonly apparent. At the same time, China’s growing economic significance and relevance for Taiwan is also a reality, and the Taiwanese people desire stability where business interests can be pursued in a predictable and fair environment, and where the government will help them shoulder and manage the potential risks involved. This will most likely be the mainstream sentiment in Taiwan for at least the next decade. Anyone who governs Taiwan must have an accurate understanding of the practical realities as well as the wishes of the Taiwanese people, and major policy must be formulated through democratic procedures. I have raised the concept of a Taiwan consensus, which highlights the democratic process of decision-making and emphasizes the fact that policy is only sustainable when it is a realistic response to the consensus and needs of the people. Any political precondition that is not democratically agreed upon is fragile at most and will not withstand the test of time.

To achieve our goal of maintaining a peaceful and stable environment across the Taiwan Strait, the DPP’s approach toward China will be stable and balanced. As a responsible political party, our policy must be in line with the mainstream consensus in our society as well as international expectations, and therefore we will refrain from extreme or radical approaches. The current stalemate across the Strait is a product of the evolution of history, but the future of relations does not have to be a zero-sum situation, and we are willing to take a strategic approach that benefits the people of both sides.

We would seek to achieve a strategic understanding that is based on reality, where the two sides across the Strait can interact in a stable and peaceful manner. We acknowledge that Beijing insists on the “one China principle” as its fundamental position toward Taiwan. However, Beijing must also understand the reality that the Taiwanese people, having gone through the historical processes of freeing themselves from foreign rule and seeking democratization, are opposed to a one-party system and committed to upholding the independence of their sovereignty. The distinct positions, however, should not prevent the two sides from reaching a mutually beneficial arrangement where we can also pursue common interests, mainly, common interests in peace and development. We believe that reaching a strategic understanding of our existing differences, and agreeing to engage based on a desire to achieve common interests and mutual benefits, is the most realistic way forward. This is what I mean by “peaceful but recognizing differences, peaceful and seeking commonalities.”

With an understanding of our differences and common objectives, we need to build a stable framework for interaction. This framework, gradually built through multiple levels, is to provide a mechanism for not only the day-to-day interactions and exchanges across the Strait, but also for conflict management and dispute settlement.

The doors of the DPP have been open to those Chinese interested in dialogue and in genuinely understanding our views. Historically, there may have been wars and conflicts between the CCP and the KMT parties, but the DPP carries no fundamental animosity toward the people of China. We are willing to play a proactive and constructive role in the development of a vibrant civil society and market economy in China, as long as it serves our common interests, which we understand to be peaceful development.

In addition to welcoming Chinese visitors to our party and our think tank, a number of DPP elected officials and local government administrations have also organized trips to China. We believe such interaction contributes to further mutual understanding.

To manage differences and to build on common interests in our interactions, we have proposed a number of policy guidelines which we will adopt when we come into government again. I have already outlined our political and security approaches abroad. Given the limitation in time, I will not go over all the other policy guidelines in detail, but let me share with you some policy points in the economic and cultural areas which may be of interest.

First, one of the most commonly asked questions I get is what the DPP would do about ECFA when we come into government. The DPP had many reservations about ECFA when it was initially proposed: Procedurally the lack of transparency in the negotiation process was unacceptable. And in terms of substance, we were concerned that the rapid opening process with China would have a dramatic impact on Taiwan’s economy which our government and people were not prepared to handle. We voiced our objections, and we ensured that no political preconditions were written into the language of the agreement. Now that ECFA is already signed into reality, when in government we will conduct regular examinations of its impact on our economy, and if and when revisions are necessary we would follow democratic procedures for handling trade agreements and international obligations.

Second, the handling of economic relations with China is not a simple matter of yes or no. The intensity of economic ties is a reality, and China has already become Taiwan’s largest investment destination and trading partner. Economic relations have evolved to an extent where continuing interaction cannot be stopped by either side, regardless of who is in government. Turning a blind eye to this reality is just as impractical as the threat to discontinue ties with changing political circumstances.

The market and the private sector have already taken the lead in this intense economic relationship. But we know that the future of China, while containing tremendous opportunities, also has its risks and uncertainties, particularly as long as the political system remains opaque, and its economy continues in a direction of state-driven capitalism. So from our perspective, the role of the government in cross-strait economic relations must contain at least the following dimensions: managing and reducing risks; ensuring a fair environment for businesses to operate; proactive global diversification efforts; and balancing interests between the sectors that profit from cross-strait trade and sectors that suffer. This is where we differ in philosophy from the KMT, which has formulated policy based on the one-dimensional assumption that opening to China is the solution to all economic problems.

My third point is in regards to the traveling and interaction between the peoples on both sides. When we were in government, we initiated negotiations on direct flights across the Strait, and we do not fundamentally object to transportation arrangements that reduce the cost of traveling, as long as security risks are controlled and the resulting profit is adequately shared. With the direct flights there is the issue of Chinese tourists. In principle we welcome Chinese tourists. However, the influx of Chinese tourists must be accompanied by a preparation with adequate infrastructure, so that overcrowding in some sites does not reduce the quality of tourism or turn away tourists from other countries.

In short, the DPP has invested a lot of time and energy into formulating a workable approach as well as specific policies toward China that are consistent with the interests of the Taiwanese people. We have conducted serious discussions with experts, academics, private sector leaders, NGO’s, and our party grassroots, to build a strong consensus that is sustainable as we deal with the complexities of the cross-strait relationship.

I want to reiterate here that our broader goal is to ensure a peaceful and stable environment where the people on both sides of the Strait and in the broader region can pursue development and prosperity. We will work on our goals in a way that is responsible and in line with international expectations of a maturing democracy.

When we win the presidential election next year, it will be Taiwan’s third transition. In a democratic society, when a party loses elections it reflects and rebuilds. If it is successful it will govern again and if not there will always be new parties and forces in a society that will propel progress and change. Since March of 2008, the DPP has gone through a very painful process of reflection, all the while facing internal and external challenges. And during my leadership of the party, I have insisted on the need for refining our policy discourse and broadening the content of political debate in Taiwan that traditionally has been more confined to ideological differences. The public has responded to our transformation with enthusiasm. Our supporters will constantly compel us to reflect and respond, and in turn they provide the fuel for our progress.

We hope that the international community, including China, will develop an understanding, if not appreciation, of how our democracy functions. The DPP’s return to government is inevitable and will happen hopefully sooner rather than later. The DPP has evolved and matured along with the development of Taiwan’s democracy, and today we are far more experienced and prepared than ever for the opportunity to govern again. I am sure our American friends here will find us to be reliable partners, and the Taiwanese people will work with us to build an accountable and responsible government.