Sun, Jul 14, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Tsai touts democracy, calls for support

MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE:The president said that Hong Kong’s experience with China’s ‘one country, two systems’ shows that authoritarianism and democracy cannot coexist

By Yang Chun-hui and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, in NEW YORK, with staff writer and CNA

President Tsai Ing-wen, third left, and NASDAQ chairman Michael Splinter, center, attend the US-Taiwan Business Summit in New York on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Friday delivered a speech at Columbia University during her closely watched visit to New York, calling for international support for a “free and democratic Taiwan” as the world faces growing threats from authoritarian forces.

“Today, a story of ‘change’ is exactly the story I am here to tell. It is the story of Taiwan. It is the story of how an island off the Chinese continent redefined the timeline for democratization and set the standard for transitioning democracies around the world,” Tsai said in a 16-minute speech at a closed-door event at the university, where she also conversed with political science professor Andrew Nathan and took questions from about 100 students.

Over the years, Taiwan has successfully defied skeptics who once questioned the sustainability of the nation’s democracy in China’s shadow, its economic potential and the likelihood of progressive values taking root in an East Asian society, she said.

Today, Taiwan is home to a thriving democratic society and political system, and is the US’ 11th-largest trading partner, she added.

“I stand here before you as Taiwan’s first woman president, and this year we became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage,” Tsai said.

Taiwan nonetheless faces new challenges and its freedom faces a dire threat, Tsai said.

Citing the case of Hong Kong, where young people are taking to the streets to fight for democratic freedoms, she said that the territory’s experience under China’s “one country, two systems” model shows that authoritarianism and democracy cannot coexist.

“Given the opportunity, authoritarianism will smother even the faintest flicker of democracy. The process may be gradual, so subtle that most don’t even feel it,” Tsai said. “Before you know it, you feel some unseen force is monitoring your every move. You begin to censor your own speech, your own thoughts.”

“That is why, now more than ever, Taiwan’s story must be heard by the world,” she added.

Taiwan might be standing on the front lines against new threats to democracy unique to the information age, such as infiltration and cognitive warfare, which are challenges facing every nation today regardless of size, Tsai said.

Another challenge comes in the form of economic enticement with hidden strings attached, she added.

“Many countries around the world are being asked to choose between democracy and economic development, and it seems the right choice is becoming less clear by the day,” Tsai said.

However, democracy and economic growth are not only mutually beneficial, they are also irrevocably intertwined, she said.

“We have been able to successfully adapt to the challenges of the US-China trade war, not despite our democracy, but rather thanks to it,” Tsai said, adding that Taiwan’s democratic system makes it open to diverse ideas, giving it the flexibility to “break the mold when the mold no longer fits.”

Calling for international support for a “free and democratic Taiwan,” she said the nation’s survival involves more than just cross-strait relations, because it has been a vital bastion of democracy in the Indo-Pacific region.

Prior to her remarks at Colombia University, Tsai delivered a speech at the US-Taiwan Business Summit on trade relations between the two nations, which was also attended by NASDAQ chairman Michael Splinter and US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers.

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