Sun, Mar 04, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Lai vows to safeguard region, bolster defense

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter

Premier William Lai speaks at the opening ceremony of the two-day East Asia Peace Forum in Taipei yesterday.

Photo: Chu Pei-hsiung, Taipei Times

Premier William Lai (賴清德) yesterday reiterated the government’s commitment to increasing defense spending, as he vowed to join other Asian nations in safeguarding regional peace at a flagship forum launched by former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮).

Lai made the remarks at the opening ceremony of the two-day East Asia Peace Forum in Taipei, which was held by the Democratic Pacific Union and cosponsored by South Korea’s 21st Century Economic and Social Research Institute and Switzerland’s Swiss Democracy Foundation.

The union is a non-governmental organization founded by Lu in 2005, when she served as vice president, to promote democracy, peace and prosperity.

“Economically speaking, Asia is marked by booming growth, but in terms of security, it is filled with brewing crises,” Lai said in his opening speech.

Asia’s growing consumer market has been a magnet for foreign investment, with its economic development becoming the driving engine for global growth, he said.

The momentum has been boosted by US President Donald Trump’s Indo-Pacific strategy, as well as the smooth transition of the previously US-dominated Trans-Pacific Partnership to the Japan-led Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Lai said.

Despite the rosy economic outlook, regional stability has come under threat as a result of North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, and China’s aggression in the East and South China seas, Lai said.

“Beijing also unilaterally activated the northbound M503 flight route, which severely affected the peaceful ‘status quo’ across the Taiwan Strait,” Lai said, vowing to raise the defense budget to join other Asian nations’ collective efforts to defend regional peace.

“Peace is not just God’s blessing — it is also an enterprise that deserves good investment and preservation,” Lu said.

“While some people are eager to encourage [nations] to upgrade arms sales, we, as peacemakers, have to build up a network to prevent war and safeguard peace in this region,” she said.

Lu said following the inaugural forum that she would take the event to Seoul next year and Manila in 2020, expressing the hope that Tokyo would be willing to be the fourth host.

This year’s forum brought together 30 academics and lawmakers from the US, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and India. It touched upon issues including the new dynamics between Washington and Beijing, security and maritime disputes in East Asia, as well as cross-strait relations.

Taiwan-US relations were also discussed, as the US Congress recently passed two Taiwan-friendly bills, including the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, which calls for military exchanges with Taiwan, and the Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages visits by Taiwanese and US government officials.

Lu raised the possibility of Trump inviting President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to the White House and how Taiwan would handle China’s anticipated fury.

The level of support shown by the US Congress and the administration signaled a huge change from Washington’s stance on the issue, American Center for Democracy senior fellow Stephen Bryen said.

“However, would Trump invite Tsai to Washington, and would she come? I really don’t know. I left my crystal ball in Washington, but I think a gesture like that would be important,” Bryen said.

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