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President Tsai delivers 2024 New Year's Address (excerpt: cross-strait relations)

  • Date:2024-01-01

Renewed conflict between freedom and democracy versus authoritarianism not only affects geopolitical stability, but also impacts the restructuring of global supply chains.

The world has changed these past eight years. Democracy and freedom are not just values we espouse; they stand as a fortress within geopolitics that we must defend. But even more than that, they form an essential core of global supply chains.

Certainly, Taiwan has also changed these past eight years. And what has changed is that Taiwan is no longer overlooked. While the 23.5 million people of Taiwan have participated in the world's changes, they have also participated in changing the world.

Were you to ask me what keyword would best relate to Taiwan over the past eight years, I would say the "world"; and as for the keyword best relating to the world, it is certainly "Taiwan."

These past eight years, we have kept our promises and maintained the status quo. We have also shown our determination and strengthened our national defense.

Over that time, we have completed 27 Brave Eagle jet trainers and we have also launched the prototype of our first indigenous submarine, Narwhal. From the review of our defense strategy, the modernization of our weapons and equipment, and the buildup of our civil defense system, to the enhancement of our military training, our comprehensive national defense reform is well underway.

However, we neither provoke nor yield. Instead, with our solid credibility, we win the trust of the international community and deepen cooperation with our democratic partners. In this way, we can face the world with confidence and resolve, and we can also be calm and self-assured in facing China.

Today, "Taiwan Can Help" is an initiative recognized by the world. When assistance is needed in the international community, Taiwan is there to provide its support; when natural disasters occur on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan is there to offer aid.

As we further our international cooperation, we hope that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait can take on shared responsibilities. We hope that the two sides will soon resume healthy and orderly exchanges. We also hope, by way of peace, parity, democracy, and dialogue, to jointly seek a long-term, stable way forward for our peaceful coexistence.

As the world sees renewed conflict between freedom and democracy versus authoritarianism, Taiwan's choice remains this: we continue to defend democracy and protect peace.

The total defense budget for this year will reach a new high of NT$600.7 billion. I must emphasize that for peace, goodwill is necessary, but strength is crucial. And for the international community to help defend Taiwan and maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, the most important pillar of support is Taiwan's determination to defend itself.

We must show staunch determination, protect our free and democratic way of life, and reinforce the global belief that Taiwan is not an expendable member, but rather one that plays a key role in, and is essential to, global peace and democracy. 

Safeguarding peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the region is not only the current consensus of the international community, but also the shared responsibility of the two sides of the strait. It is not only a shared mission across Taiwan's political parties, but also the shared expectation of Taiwan's 23.5 million people. 

After several years of hard work, we have changed course and reduced our over-reliance on a single market. We have departed completely from the approach of the previous administration, which attempted to rely on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) to make Taiwan just like Hong Kong by taking an accelerated path to economic integration with China.

Cross-strait economic and trade relations have now become healthier and more orderly. China is now much more reliant on imports of high-tech products from Taiwan than our traditional industries are on exports to the Chinese market.

The significant increase in Taiwan's economic strengths has changed the dynamics of our interactions with China's economy. As a result, we now have more room on the international stage.

An agreement between Taiwan and Korea to prevent double taxation entered into effect today. Also, Taiwan and the US just last year signed the first agreement under the Taiwan-US Initiative on 21st-Century Trade. That was followed by the signing of an enhanced trade partnership arrangement with the UK, and a foreign investment promotion and protection arrangement with Canada.

These trade agreements have been made in response to the new global landscape. Our key steps forward with these agreements have helped us break free of the tendency to engage with China before engaging with the world, a tendency followed by the previous administration.

Today's Taiwan can engage directly with the world. Taiwan's semiconductor and high-tech industries are indispensable engines that help keep global supply chains operating.

After her remarks, President Tsai took questions from the media. 

President Tsai was asked about her thoughts on Chinese President Xi Jinping's comment in his New Year's address that "the unification of the two sides of the strait is a historical inevitability," and on there being two candidates in Taiwan's upcoming presidential election who say they will stay on the "Tsai Ing-wen path" if elected. In response, the president said that in the development of cross-strait relations, the most important thing is to abide by democratic principles and make decisions based on the collective will of the Taiwanese people. As this is a democratic country, she said, the kind of relationship we form with China going forward must be decided by our democratic processes. In this regard, she noted, we must ensure the quality of our democracy and continue to cultivate a democratic ethos among our people as well as a deeper understanding of the circumstances facing our country.

President Tsai was asked if national security agencies had prior knowledge of attempts to interfere in Taiwan's elections, such as China pressuring the Taiwanese band Mayday into saying Taiwan is part of China, village chiefs accepting subsidized travel to China, or fake public opinion polls. The president stated that since Taiwan's first direct presidential election in 1996, China's election interference has been commonplace and that our national security agencies are on top of the situation. 

She added that it is not only Taiwan that faces election interference, noting that last year similar cognitive manipulation was used in Korea's presidential election, but the Korean people decided not to be swayed by these methods. The president said she believes that the people of Taiwan will also make a wise decision in our election. Most important, she said, is that here everyone can freely express themselves because this is democratic Taiwan, but that she also hopes Taiwanese society can be vigilant in the face of election interference and disinformation. 

The president was asked about her view on the following day being the fifth anniversary of Chinese President Xi's "Message to Compatriots in Taiwan," in which he defined the "1992 consensus" as "one country, two systems" and said that there is support for the "1992 consensus" among Taiwanese society. In response, President Tsai said that while she cannot change all the political parties in Taiwan, she has, to a considerable extent, helped the Taiwanese people deepen their understanding and knowledge of global affairs and cross-strait relations.

The president then explained that the "1992 consensus" was only coined as such in 2000 and that this name was not used in 1992, while interpretations of the "1992 consensus" have also changed along with developments in cross-strait affairs. Today, she noted, the leader of China has determined that the "1992 consensus" means "the 1992 consensus of one China" and that China believes political negotiations should be conducted between the two sides of the strait to realize "one country, two systems" in Taiwan. As such, she said, the "1992 consensus," "one China principle," and "one country, two systems" constitute a three-pronged plan for Taiwan with accepting the "1992 consensus" as its starting point.

President Tsai said that if we blindly go along with the "1992 consensus," Taiwan will be hemmed in by China's definition of the "1992 consensus," which would be a tremendous risk for the sovereignty of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Pointing out that some continue to tell the Taiwanese people the "1992 consensus" is a magic word that makes communication with China possible, the president said that communication is indeed important, but handing over our sovereignty in exchange for an opportunity to communicate would be a step too far.

The media asked whether the cross-strait approach that the vice president referred to in a debate a few days prior was the same as the Tsai administration's approach, and whether the president feels that the Constitution of the Republic of China is a disaster. In response, President Tsai stated that it is incumbent on the president of the Republic of China to handle cross-strait affairs in accordance with the Constitution, the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, and related laws and regulations. On that point, she said, she and the vice president concur, and that is what she has done over the past eight years.

The president pointed out that the Kuomintang's (KMT) proposal to use the "1992 consensus" as the political foundation for negotiations and interaction with China and the Constitution of the Republic of China are two separate issues. She then reiterated her previous statement, saying that the "1992 consensus" puts our national sovereignty at risk. Conflating discussion of the "1992 consensus" and the Constitution of the Republic of China risks subjecting the Constitution to the terms of the "1992 consensus," she said, and that is truly cause for concern. Therefore, she said, the risk lies not in the Constitution of the Republic of China itself, but in connecting it with the "1992 consensus." 

Regarding the suspension, beginning that day, of selected tariff reductions under ECFA, with some people thinking that China will end those suspensions before the president leaves office, the media asked whether China's tariff reduction suspensions constitute interference in the upcoming election, and what effect that will have on the domestic economy. President Tsai said that, as she just mentioned, Taiwan's industry is already dealing directly with the world and gradually breaking away from the old path of engaging with China before engaging with the world. We have always welcomed healthy and orderly cross-strait interaction, she said, but economic and trade dealings cannot become political tools, nor can commercial mechanisms be used as political threats. 

The president said we have also seen that China often unilaterally erects trade barriers against various countries around the world based on political factors. She noted some examples, including China's prohibition of rum imports from Lithuania after Taiwan and Lithuania established a friendship, and China's imposition of punitive tariffs on Australian wine following Australia's criticism of China's infringements on human rights in Xinjiang. Noting that Taiwan and China are both members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the president said that if there are trade disputes, they should be negotiated through existing mechanisms. 

The president emphasized that we anticipated China's actions early on, and helped industry make the best possible preparations. The president pointed out that given ECFA's current scope, its economic effects are limited, but in the future, Taiwan's industry must still pursue risk diversification and global expansion. That is the correct path, she said, instead of returning to the path of dependence on China, especially since China's unstable market entails unpredictable risks. 

Regarding international media assertions that Taiwan's presidential election is the most important election in Asia this year, and her view on the post-election regional situation and China's possible course of action, President Tsai said that for China and the world at large, the best choice is to respect the Republic of China's democratic constitutional system and the choices made by the people of Taiwan. Our national security team will assess and prepare for all contingencies, the president said, emphasizing, however, that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait share the responsibility for continuing to maintain the status quo of peace and stability. 

Regarding opposition party criticisms that the ruling party has brought Taiwan to the brink of war, the president responded that the "Three Major Programs for Investing in Taiwan," which she had mentioned earlier, have helped bring in a total of NT$2.1 trillion in investment from Taiwanese firms, while foreign investment has exceeded NT$2.4 trillion. She pointed out that the world investing in Taiwan means that Taiwan is safe and that people place confidence in its safety.

Offering an example, the president said that all of our homes have doors and locks, not for the purpose of provoking our neighbors but for our own safety, adding that this is the same for a country. Emphasizing that the people of Taiwan want peace, but specifically peace with dignity, the president said that dignity can only be defended with determination, and peace can only be ensured with strength. Peace with dignity, she said, means peace through democratic partners standing together, walking alongside Taiwan with the universal values of the rest of the world.