Chair Su Tseng-chang's Remarks at the Brookings Institution, Washington D.C.

Chair Su Tseng-chang spoke on June 13 at the Brookings Institution organized by the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies (CNAPS) at Brookings and the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

Below are his remaks in full:

A New Partnership for a New Age: Strengthening U.S.-Taiwan Relations

Thank you very much, Chris, for your kind introduction. And thank you very much, Richard, for inviting me to speak here.

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning! I would like to thank both Brookings and CSIS for hosting this event. I am very glad to have this chance to engage in a conversation with you.

My American Experience

As my flight was approaching Reagan National Airport, I saw the Washington Monument covered for repair work.

What came to my mind then was that back in 1983, thanks to the late Ambassador Jim Lilly, the United States invited me to visit Washington. That was my first visit, and I was moved by the history behind the Monument and the memorials. 

With more than 200 year history, US democracy has survived the wars and other challenges. But just as the Washington Monument will stand tall and firm again, U.S. democracy grew stronger after each and every major event. Actually, this is how I look at Taiwan democracy, too.

Taiwan Democracy

I come from Pin-tung, the southern tip of Taiwan. I went to law school and passed the national bar exam to become a lawyer. I could have had a good life but in 1979, when the Kaohsiung Incident took place and democracy advocates were imprisoned by the KMT regime, I decided to take another route by serving as the defense lawyer for those political prisoners. 

In 1986, with martial law still in effect, I and 17 other members founded the first opposition party in Taiwan—the Democratic Progressive Party—to push for Taiwan’s democratization as the only path to end political persecution.

Over the last 26 years, the DPP fought hard against the KMT's one-party rule. We successfully pushed for general elections for the parliament and the president, and eventually we became the ruling party in 2000.

During the process, I went local first and was elected mayor of Pin-tung County. I next went north, and was elected mayor of Taipei County, now called Xin-bei City. I then went national, to serve as Premier. In the mean time, I also went from being a founding member of the DPP to twice becoming the chairman.

While our American friends are used to the democratic way of life, even take democracy for granted, many in Taiwan, including myself, risked their lives, and a good life, to slowly open the door for democracy. Thanks to the help of our American friends, democracy became a reality. I consider myself fortunate, and feel very proud, not only to witness but also to play a role in the historical process. I value what we have in Taiwan now, and I will do whatever it takes to defend our democracy.

Today I would like to explain to you how the DPP looks at some important issues, including how to deepen Taiwan’s democracy, how to proceed with managing cross-strait relations, and how to strengthen our relations with the U.S. Here I would like to refer to three “Rs” as my core concepts: responsibility, reconciliation, and re-balance.

Responsibility—beyond just an opposition

Since I became the DPP Chairman a year ago, I have tried hard to make the DPP more than just an opposition party, but rather a responsible force that proposes alternative policies and strives to outperform the governing party.

Last year when Taiwan’s economy was at a low point, the DPP proposed a policy package to stimulate Taiwan’s economy. At the beginning of this year, the DPP was on the frontline again leading the discussion of the reform of our near-bankrupt pension systems.

We also stood side by side with professors and students in the difficult campaign to prevent media monopoly and to preserve Taiwan’s media freedom. And I am glad to tell you that we have made it. The DPP is now leading a national campaign to halt the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant. We have more policy proposals in the pipeline covering all aspects of public policy.

My objective in all of this is to lead the DPP to victory in the local elections at the end of next year, and to pave the way for a DPP comeback in 2016. I am sure the people of Taiwan, and the international community, will welcome a more capable and more responsible DPP.

I was on the Capitol Hill yesterday meeting my friend Ed Royce, Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee. We recounted the unique experience of riding Taiwan's high-speed railway train with five other visiting congressmen. Chairman Royce told me he would never forget the experience of a dialogue taking place at 185 miles per hour.

The construction of the high-speed railway system was started by the DPP Administration and completed when I was serving as Premier. We showed our ability to govern at the national level and our local leaders regularly receive the highest marks throughout the country. When the people of Taiwan compare us to the alternatives, I'm sure they will see us as the best choice.

China Policy and Taiwan Consensus

Friends here are anxious to learn how the DPP plans to manage Taiwan’s relations with China. Past history has left its imprint and the DPP has to work hard to regain the confidence of our international friends. As the DPP Chairman, I cannot shy away from this responsibility. In this regard, I adhere to the principle of reconciliation to lead up to the normalization of cross-strait relations.  

Not long ago, Richard sent me a copy of his recent book Uncharted Strait. There is one argument in the book with which I cannot agree more: the U.S. should not abandon Taiwan, but needs to strike a balance in dealing with Taiwan and China.

In addition, we in Taiwan also see, as Richard wrote in his book, that after five years, the momentum of cross-strait cooperation will begin to decelerate and most likely stall. This would require both Taiwan and the U.S. to be more realistic in looking at cross-strait relations.

What we have learned from the political transitions taking place last year in the Asia Pacific region is that Taiwan and the DPP need to take into consideration regional strategic dynamics. Taiwan should not confine its political focus to elections and domestic politics.

I have always been pragmatic and adhere to the principles. My track record as Premier speaks for itself. In 2006 to 2007, expanded charter flights and tourism were both negotiated in Macau. What was agreed upon in 2008 was actually based on those negotiations under the DPP government.

Last year when I ran for the chairmanship, I made a pledge to establish a China Affairs Committee. After five months of consultation and preparation, the first committee meeting took place on May 9, and Taiwan’s China Agenda was proposed. We will design Taiwan’s China policy with strategic depth. We will also build it comprehensively by dealing with political, security, social, and economic aspects.

In the past, our discussion and policies dealing with China have often been influenced by the pressure of highly competitive elections. The result was that many in and out of Taiwan do not really understand us. Even though our policy principles are sound and in line with Taiwan’s majority, there seems to be a gap in perception. I know this is what we need to overcome if the DPP is to make a come-back.

Here I would like to highlight the DPP’s core value on China policy: Taiwan is a sovereign country, with its national title the Republic of China. This is the status quo of the Taiwan Strait; any change to it must be approved by the people of Taiwan through democratic means such as referendum. This is what we call the principle of democratic procedure. This principle is engraved in our 1999 “Resolution Regarding Taiwan’s Future.” It is also what I called the “Taiwan consensus” three years ago.

On the other hand, Taiwan should engage a rising China with self-confidence. Taiwan should not only pursue interaction and dialogue with the Chinese government but also the Chinese people. In fact, many DPP members have engaged in various forms of interaction with China for some time. It also seems to me that China now is more interested in understanding Taiwan by interacting with the DPP. More interaction means more mutual understanding and less distrust. This is important so that Beijing not misjudge and mismanage its relations with Taiwan, particularly when the DPP comes back to power.

This is the first step in our strategic design on China policy. Once our party reaches conclusions on our basic positions, strategies and policies in the committee, we would like to go one step further by formulating Taiwan’s domestic consensus. This will become the basis for normalizing relations with Beijing.

There is no such thing as a “magic formula” that can resolve all cross-strait differences. Now the differences between Taiwan and China are too wide in the areas of political development and military balance. Improvement of relations should come from a step by step, hard effort. They cannot be captured in a four-character formula. The process requires us to deliberate at the intra-party, domestic, and cross-strait levels.

US-Taiwan relations needs a re-balance

Taiwanese, and certainly the DPP, have always considered Taiwan’s relations with the U.S. as the country’s most important relationship. No matter what has happened in the past, my party needs to look and move forward. It is based on this belief that I decided to re-establish our mission in DC to strengthen relations with the U.S. 

The U.S. is Taiwan’s most important democratic partner, and also our security and economic partner. I was on the Capitol Hill yesterday meeting with Senate and House leaders. I expressed the heartfelt appreciation by the DPP, and all people in Taiwan indeed, for the Taiwan Relations Act.

Democracy and security do not fall from heaven. They come with a cost. In the past few years, the cross-strait military imbalance has become more serious, but Taiwan’s investment in defense is growing smaller. It is time for us to demonstrate that we are serious about our own defense. I would like to urge you to look at my track record again when I was serving as Taiwan’s Premier. Despite all difficulties, the defense budget reached 2.7% of GDP in 2007, and 3% in 2008.

In this trip to the U.S., I brought with me the newest blue-books on defense to show our American friends that, even though we are in opposition now, the DPP is serious, and I am serious, about Taiwan’s defense. I guarantee you: the future DPP government will be fully committed to Taiwan’s self-defense.

For sure, we ask not what the U.S. can do for Taiwan, but ask what Taiwan can do to earn the U.S. support.

On trade policy, the DPP supports an open economy and free trade. The DPP worries about Taiwan’s over-concentration on China, and supports government efforts to negotiate free trade deals with other countries.

The DPP also supports President Obama’s “pivot,” for it is an important pillar to peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region. For Taiwan’s own strategic and economic interest, Taiwan should integrate itself in this rebalancing effort, pursuing a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., and actively seeking to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The FTAs and TPP are paths for Taiwan to survive and prosper economically.

The DPP will continue to monitor the government to ensure that it engages in structural reform, brings technology into industries, and helps business network internationally. Most importantly, we will urge the government to appropriate the budget necessary to help our industries in their needed transformation.

With that, I would like to call upon our American friends to re-balance relations with Taiwan while engaging China, and to help Taiwan in the areas of security enhancement and trade relations.


Ladies and Gentlemen, the DPP was twice elected as the ruling party by the Taiwanese people. The DPP will work harder than ever to win the support from the public and the trust from the international community.

Responsibility, reconciliation and rebalance are my guiding principles.

The DPP has been and will be a responsible party offering clear policies for the people of Taiwan.

The DPP is committed to domestic reconciliation and cross-strait normalization.

The DPP is committed to being an integral partner in this effort, a responsible player offering Taiwan's rich talents to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Asia. 

Thank you very much.