In a pre-recorded address to a Washington think tank on Aug. 12, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen laid out a set of plans and principles to guide the future of Taiwan, its role as a leading democracy in the Indo-Pacific region, its relationship with the United States, and its support for the people of Hong Kong.
Tsai also spoke at length about Taiwan’s relationship with mainland China, where a one-party, authoritarian communist regime still reigns after nearly 71 years in power.
Growing Relationship With US
In remarks delivered to the Hudson Institute, Tsai said that Taiwan’s recent budget for defense represents 2.6 percent of GDP, and she expects that to grow.
But, she added, “as effective as our military is, we cannot stand alone. … I am proud that the relationship between Taiwan and the U.S. has never been closer. Across the board, we share a high degree of mutual trust and a common strategic picture of how we can work together to protect and preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The concept of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific is a direct counter to the claims and behavior of an increasingly aggressive China in the South China Sea.
The U.S. State Department calls the strategy “an ironclad and enduring commitment to” a region that spans from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian subcontinent.
“The American people and the whole world have a stake in the Indo-Pacific’s peace and prosperity,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in 2018. “It’s why the Indo-Pacific must be free and open.”
Tsai said that “foremost among my priorities is to establish a constructive security relationship” with the United States. “We want to forge greater consensus on ways we can preserve the peace across the Taiwan Strait.”
But “economic linkages and supply-chain security for both Taiwan and the United States” are also critical, she said.
Therefore, Taiwan’s “second area of focus is to be begin negotiations toward an FTA,” Tsai said, referring to a free trade agreement that she hopes can be implemented with the United States soon.
“For too long, negotiations have been hindered by technicalities which are just a small fraction of two-way trade,” she said.
Noting that recently, Google and Microsoft have increased their investments in Taiwan, Tsai said that “we want to work together to solve these in a way that is safe for our consumers and also consistent with established scientific standards.”
Tsai said she also has seen “firsthand” that the United States is actively making other countries around the world “more aware of authoritarian actors,” a phenomenon she witnessed at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit.
She hopes the United States will also support Taiwan’s increasing participation in international institutions.
Noting the strength of Taiwan’s democracy, Tsai said, “Democracy is not a Western phenomenon or, as some people claim, incompatible with certain cultures.”
A Call to Support Hong Kong
Tsai said the world is seeing a growing and “ever more challenging threat to free and democratic societies,” and she emphasized that “nowhere is this more apparent than in Hong Kong.”
She referred to the recently imposed national security law that the Chinese Communist Party forced upon Hong Kong on July 1, extinguishing the rights of Hong Kong citizens to free speech and freedom of assembly, both guaranteed under the Joint Declaration signed by China and Britain in 1984.
Noting that “thousands of Hong Kong students studied in our universities,” Tsai reminded listeners that “we are the only two Chinese-speaking societies that commemorate June 4th and its profound significance for freedom and democracy.”
“We also see the international community as having an obligation to speak out against the demise of Hong Kong’s freedoms,” Tsai said, referring to the former British colony as a “beacon of civil liberties.”
Tsai applauded the actions taken by the UK and the United States in support of Hong Kong “and other like-minded democracies” and called upon other nations to do the same.
Britain suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong in a rebuke to the Chinese regime. It also intends to provide a path for Hong Kong citizens born under British rule to become British citizens.
The United States has revoked Hong Kong’s preferential trading status.
Tsai also noted Taiwan’s swift response to the removal of Hong Kong’s freedoms.
“In May, I visited the reopened Causeway Bay Books in Taipei, which had long been a symbol of freedom of speech in Hong Kong.
The owner, Mr. Lam Wing-kee, was detained and interrogated after crossing the border to Shenzhen and came to Taiwan after fears that he would be extradited back to China, Tsai said.
Tsai has spurred Taiwan to broader action on behalf of Hong Kong’s citizens as well.
“Cases like Mr. Lam inspired us to quickly establish a new Taiwan–Hong Kong services and exchange office to provide humanitarian support and assist the people of Hong Kong in relocating to Taiwan,” Tsai said.
“Taiwan,” Tsai said, is “a bastion of freedom and democracy.”