On the morning of January 23, President Ma Ying-jeou attended celebratory activities marking 2013 World Freedom Day, as well as the 57th annual General Conference of the World League for Freedom and Democracy (WLFD) and the Asian Pacific League for Freedom and Democracy (APLFD). During the events, the president stressed that while democracy is an imported system, it has taken root and is flourishing in the soil of Chinese culture. Consequently, in addition to economic, trade, and cultural affairs, the government hopes to expand its dialogue with mainland China to include human rights and rule of law, he said.
In remarks, the president, on behalf of the government and people of the ROC, welcomed the guests from throughout the world who had come to Taiwan to attend the celebrations. He reminded everyone that World Freedom Day was established back in 1954 after the Korean War. After the conclusion of the war, over 14,000 soldiers from mainland China decided to find freedom in Taiwan. The United Nations and the ROC government arranged for these soldiers to be transported to the port city of Keelung on January 23, 1954. Since then, January 23 has been observed as World Freedom Day, he explained, in recognition of the determination of people to pursue freedom and democracy. This day carries important significance, he added.
The president remarked that the ROC was the first democratic republic in Asia, and it has been resolute in its pursuit of freedom and democracy. President Ma acknowledged that, due to the impact of the cross-strait standoff, martial law was enforced for 38 years here after the ROC government relocated to Taiwan, but in 1987 the government lifted martial law in the Taiwan and Penghu areas. Thereafter, bans on the establishment of new political parties and newspapers were ended, all seats in the legislature were put up for election, the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion was terminated, and the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of National Mobilization were abolished. Eventually, even the president came to be selected through direct elections, President Ma stated, explaining that the use of democratic means to implement the Constitution transformed the ROC into a completely free and democratic nation.
President Ma mentioned that according to the annual report compiled by the Washington-based human rights advocacy group Freedom House, Taiwan received a rating of "one" for political rights and "two" for civil liberties, and continues to be rated a free country. The president stated that the government will continue to pursue even higher standards so the public can enjoy democracy and freedom in the fullest measure.
The president remarked that after he took office in 2008 he announced that same year on World Human Rights Day (December 10) that Taiwan would ratify two United Nations human rights covenants, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In April of the following year, he said, the ROC formulated an enforcement act for these two documents, thus incorporating them into domestic law, and in May he signed the instruments of ratification for the two covenants. Consequently, the content of these covenants is now binding on the government and the public here, and the ROC has become a truly democratic nation, which is extremely significant. At the same time, the government has released a national human rights report in accordance with UN procedures, said the president, who indicated that the government has invited some of the world's leading human rights experts to come to Taiwan to review the human rights report to ensure that Taiwan's efforts in the pursuit of human rights, freedom, democracy, and rule of law are in step with those of the rest of the world.
President Ma expressed his belief that due to Taiwan's past experience during the martial law period and the standoff with mainland China, the public keenly understands that "without peace it is difficult to institute freedom and democracy," because if conflict were to break out, a nation would have to mobilize its manpower and resources in preparation for war, in the course of which the freedom and rights of its people would be abridged, he explained. The president said that nearly 80 years have elapsed since the forces of the Kuomintang Party and the Communist Party first engaged in a civil war in China, which resulted in the deaths of millions of people. He stated that since he took office, he has sought to resolve cross-strait disputes in a peaceful manner. As a result, relations between the two sides have improved rapidly. At present, the two sides have signed a total of 18 agreements and two points of consensus. These pacts enable direct flights between Taiwan and mainland China, allow mainland Chinese tourists to come to Taiwan, promote nuclear power safety, and provide for cooperation in the combating of crime, he said.
The president pointed to the number of mainland Chinese visiting Taiwan as an example. He said that five years ago when he took office, while there were frequent contacts and dealings between the two sides, direct flights were not allowed between Taiwan and mainland China. Today, however, there are 616 direct scheduled flights weekly, he said. In addition, mainland Chinese made 2.58 million tourist visits to Taiwan last year and 7.17 million visits over the past four years, both of which are record highs, he said. This demonstrates, remarked President Ma, that peaceful methods can be used to eliminate differences between the two sides, and "shelving disputes and together creating win-win solutions" is an effective way to resolve confrontation.
President Ma furthermore stated that Taiwan's breathing room in the international community has also expanded in the wake of improved cross-strait relations. The ROC only has diplomatic relations with 23 nations, but as of last year, 131 nations and areas had already granted ROC nationals either visa-free courtesies or landing visas. This, he said, proves that the international community has responded favorably to the ROC's efforts to act as "a peacemaker, a provider of humanitarian aid, a promoter of cultural ties, a creator of new technologies and business opportunities, and a standard-bearer of Chinese culture" in the global arena. In addition, the government continues striving for world peace and advocating international cooperation, he said, which is why it has proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative to handle the sovereignty controversy surrounding the Diaoyutai Islets in the East China Sea, and to promote regional peace, he stated.
President Ma emphasized that Taiwan's experience over the past six decades in transforming into a democracy shows that democracy can be imported and flourish on Chinese soil, he said. For this reason, in addition to peace in the East China Sea, the government hopes that dialogue with mainland China will not only address economic, trade, and cultural affairs, but also will be expanded to deal with human rights and the rule of law, which the president said will enable people in mainland China to understand what Taiwan has done in this respect, as well as Taiwan's realization of democracy.
Among those attending the celebrations were WLFD President Yao Eng-Chi (饒穎奇) and Minister of Foreign Affairs David Y. L. Lin(林永樂).