Proud of Our Democracy, Proud of Taiwan
President of the Legislative Yuan Wang Jin-pyng; President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaoré and Madame Compaoré; President of Paraguay Horacio Cartes; Vice President of Honduras Lorena Herrera and Mr. Enamorado; First Lady of Panama Lorena Castillo; President of the National Assembly of Nicaragua Santos René Núñez and Madame Núñez; Visiting Foreign Delegates, Ambassadors, and Representatives to the Republic of China; Vice President Wu Den-yih; Presidents of the Five Yuan; senior advisors to the President; heads of government agencies and local governments; representatives of the overseas compatriot community; fellow countrymen:
Today is the National Day of the Republic of China. I feel proud, happy, and thankful to be here with each of you to celebrate the 103rd birthday of the Republic of China.
A lot of major events have occurred over the past year: the crash of two Malaysia Airlines jetliners, the crisis in Ukraine, havoc wrought by the Islamic State in the Middle East, Scotland’s independence referendum, the scourge of Ebola in West Africa, and Hong Kong’s struggle for universal suffrage. These events are of great significance. Nations around the world have been observing closely.
Here at home, we experienced a student movement in March, a stabbing spree on the Taipei rapid transit system, an air disaster in Penghu, gas main explosions in Kaohsiung, and food safety incidents. These incidents have shocked our society, and left everyone feeling anxious.
Yet, we have also seen positive new developments. Electrification of the rail line in eastern Taiwan from Hualien to Taitung, and double-tracking of the more congested sections of the line, were completed nine months ahead of schedule. Now, travel time between Taipei and Taitung has been cut to three-and-a-half hours, which puts Taitung within a day trip of Taipei. We have implemented a plan to improve the nation’s fiscal policy by creating a fairer tax structure. We have also begun to collect supplementary health insurance premiums based on a wider definition of personal income, which will ensure solvency for the second-generation national health insurance program. Our move to a volunteer military is proceeding smoothly; large numbers of officers and soldiers have been willing to continue serving in the volunteer military, and we have a stable supply of new recruits. Meanwhile, Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦), Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, met twice with Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), Minister of mainland China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, in a further step forward in cross-strait cooperation. We have launched a 12-year public education system in an effort to maintain a balanced focus on the moral, intellectual, physical, social, and aesthetic aspects of a child’s development, and to tailor education to the individual. In the process, we have acted upon our mature democratic values to build consensus, finalize a program, and get it up and running.
On this day, our national day, we see ever more clearly that we can effectively and speedily handle major incidents within a legal framework, and turn crises into opportunities. What is more, six years of efforts by the government and people have borne fruit on many fronts.
I. Building better lives—efforts to improve the economy and build a happier society are showing results
Since I took office, the task of building a robust economy has been a major focus of my administration. Earlier this year, in my addresses marking New Year’s Day and the sixth anniversary of my inauguration, I reiterated my intention to get all the people of Taiwan engaged in a national campaign to strengthen the economy.
This year, exports have continued to rise, and the economic growth rate has continued to accelerate. Trading in our stock market has hit six-year highs, whether measured by transaction value or trading volume. The composite economic indicator for our economy has registered a “green light,” indicating a stable economy, for seven months straight. Unemployment is at a six-year low, while consumer confidence is at a 14-year high. In August, the government announced a raise in the minimum monthly wage to NT$20,008, and in the hourly wage to NT$120. This is the fifth time the minimum wage has been raised since I took office. In the future, my administration is planning to further serve the interests of rank-and-file workers by introducing tax incentives to encourage employers to raise wages. This year we have also achieved the narrowest gaps between income quintiles in four years. Nearly one-half of employers are looking to add to payrolls in the second half of this year. In fact, intention to hire in Taiwan is the second-highest in the world. These facts indicate that Taiwan’s economy has entered a healthy cycle.
In the first nine months of the year, foreign travelers paid some 7.2 million visits to Taiwan, and we are hopeful that the goal of 9 million for the year will be met. World Tourism Organization statistics show that the number of foreign travelers to Taiwan in the first half of the year jumped 26.7% year on year, the highest increase in the world. In the most recent IMD World Competitiveness Index
, Taiwan came in 13th, while in the OECD Better Life Index
, Taiwan ranks 18th. The IMD and OECD indices both rank Taiwan near the top in Asia. Overall, our economy has indeed improved over the past year. But we cannot rest upon our laurels. We must continue to work hard to make sure that everyone can actually feel the effect of the improvements we are achieving.
II. Becoming more united—we’re all in this together
In July and August, the nation wept as an aircraft went down over Penghu and exploding gas mains rocked Kaohsiung. Tragedy, however, brings out the best in us. Donations of time and money showed the brotherly love we are capable of.
We were all taken aback recently at the news that over 1,000 food producers had been using substandard oil in their products. The government quickly tracked down the shady firm that made this oil, and the products into which it was mixed, but this incident aroused people’s fears, and caused companies to lose money. Moreover, international news reportage on this incident damaged not just Taiwan’s reputation as a food lover’s paradise, but the overall image of our nation. Saddened by this terrible experience, the government immediately adopted eight measures to improve food safety. I wish to stress, once again, that this type of crooked behavior is totally unacceptable to me, just as it is to all our citizens. I have instructed the government to critically review its own performance, thoroughly investigate criminal behavior, and hand out severe punishments in order to prevent further production of tainted foods.
Credit for uncovering this scandal goes to a farmer in Pingtung who had been crying foul for four years, and a dogged Taichung police officer who crossed jurisdictional lines to crack the case. It was their sense of justice and responsibility that led to the culprit’s unmasking in Pingtung. What they did was yet another instance in which our humanity and our conscience shone through as the most beautiful of all the wonderful “scenery” you will come across in Taiwan.
It is in the darkest of times that a torch shines most brightly. Integrity and honesty are part of the basic character of the people of Taiwan. But beyond that, the Republic of China’s free and democratic constitutional system has awakened a civic awareness in us, and embodies our people-centered values. Our people seek out opportunities to take part in society, and contribute to it. This is an important part of what motivates us to feel a genuine concern for one another, and what unites us as one. This is the asset we ought to treasure most.
III. Growing more confident—democracy and freedom are our beacons
As we look back on the ROC’s 103 years of history, we recall that our forefathers held fast to a dream: to build a democratic republic of the people, by the people, and for the people. From Dr. Sun Yat-sen, our founding father, to the many activists who have fought for democracy in Taiwan since the time of the Japanese occupation, all have made sacrifices. All have shed blood, sweat, and tears in pursuit of this dream. Thanks to their efforts, the Republic of China became the first democratic republic in Asia, and Taiwan became the first ethnic Chinese society to successfully experience a democratic transformation.
Throughout history, nations have sought a spiritual foundation that citizens could strongly identify with, so as to create a sense of belonging. For a modern society, the spiritual foundation is a free and democratic constitutional system. In Taiwan, the people are the masters of the nation, and all are protected by the Constitution.
Taiwan has been holding regular presidential and parliamentary elections for a long time now. There are 255 legally registered political parties. We have witnessed two handovers of power between parties at the central government level. Among the world’s new democracies, we stand as a model of democratic consolidation.
In addition, through the media, the Internet, and public demonstrations, our people engage in dynamic and diverse expressions of opinion on public affairs. And they do so completely free of constraints. The vigor of public discourse in Taiwan, and the universal access to participation therein, make for a better informed public, and more in-depth policy discussions. In the Press Freedom Rankings
published by US-based Freedom House, Taiwan and Japan are the only countries in Asia listed as “free.” A democratic system of government tolerates differences of opinion, fosters dialogue, resolves disputes, and engenders social stability. The ROC stands as eloquent testimony to the truth of this statement.
IV. Embracing diversity—a cosmopolitan world view and diversity enrich Taiwan
For the past three decades, over 400,000 people from Southeast Asia and mainland China have married our citizens and settled here. Some 520,000 migrant workers are here as well, building our public infrastructure, working for our companies, and caring for our loved ones. The faces and accents of those who have arrived from abroad to settle and work in Taiwan are gradually becoming a familiar part of our lives. And they, too, enjoy the protections afforded by our Constitution.
In the past, immigrants did not receive adequate care and respect. Our legislation was not very fair to them. But they learned to use democratic processes to effect change. Immigrant wives worked with Taiwan’s civic groups and scholars to establish the Alliance for Human Rights Legislation for Immigrants and Migrants. Because of such efforts, immigrants today enjoy a much friendlier environment.
In addition, an increasing number of young people from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Europe, and the Americas, as well as overseas compatriots, are coming to Taiwan to study. This year, they are expected to exceed 85,000, which is 2.8 times more than six years ago. Their presence at our campuses, restaurants, rapid transit facilities, bookstores, scenic spots, and concerts has made Taiwan a more cosmopolitan place. They have enriched our society, while we have learned to be more inclusive and friendly, and to broaden our horizons. “Taiwan reaches out to the world, and the world comes to Taiwan” is no longer a slogan, but rather an integral part of our daily lives.
V. Growing more proactive—we fulfill our duties, make friends, and gain access to countries worldwide
It is not only within our own borders, however, that the ROC’s democratic accomplishments can be observed; in foreign affairs, as well, we have achieved major breakthroughs. In April of last year, for example, we signed a fisheries agreement with Japan that brought a peaceful end to more than four decades of fishery disputes in waters around the Diaoyutai Islets. Without making any concessions on sovereignty, we managed to achieve great progress with respect to fishing rights, and won praise from the international community. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Australian Minister for Defense David Johnston have both stated that the Taiwan-Japan fisheries agreement would contribute to regional peace. Following the Guang Da Xing No. 28
fishing boat incident in May last year, we held peaceful negotiations with the Philippines, which concluded with Manila making a formal apology, providing compensation, and indicting the perpetrators. In addition, the two sides reached three points of consensus regarding how to conduct law enforcement actions at sea. For our fishermen, this outcome represents justice served. Moreover, it resolves a 30-year dispute between Taiwan and the Philippines over maritime law enforcement. In another breakthrough development, a British court ruled that UK citizen Zain Dean, who had fled Taiwan after being convicted of a crime here, should be extradited to Taiwan to serve out his sentence. Also, our official representatives are once again able to formally participate in meetings of some UN specialized agencies after an absence of 30 to 40 years. A total of 140 countries or territories now accord visa-free or landing-visa treatment to ROC passport-holders, and the ROC passport is ranked as the 22nd most useful in the world. These developments give our citizens a newfound level of dignity and convenience in their travel overseas. Fellow countrymen: the free and democratic Republic of China has earned the trust of the international community. Our passport has come to stand as the symbol of a highly civilized nation that lives under the rule of law. This is something of which we should be very proud.
I would now like to address the topic of cross-strait relations. Over the past six years, Taiwan and the Chinese mainland have moved from confrontation to rapprochement, and from antagonism to consultations. Our constitutional democracy has played a role in this process. Whether it is in our maintenance of the status quo of no unification, no independence, and no use of force under the ROC constitutional framework, or in our upholding of the 1992 Consensus of “one China, respective interpretations,” our policies have been formulated in accordance with the Constitution. In particular, the 1992 Consensus has been a key foundation for the past six years of peaceful cross-strait ties. We have stood firm and consistent on this stance, which has received majority support in all public opinion surveys. In the results of the last two presidential elections, moreover, this policy has withstood the test of electoral scrutiny. The 21 agreements we have signed with mainland China have been submitted to the Legislative Yuan, either to be placed on the public record or to undergo review. This means they are subject to legislative supervision. We will continue to conduct our cross-strait policy in line with this democratic mechanism. The two historic meetings between Minister Wang Yu-chi of the Mainland Affairs Council and his mainland counterpart, Minister Zhang Zhijun of the Taiwan Affairs Office, further reflect the significant progress we have made in cross-strait relations and underscore our government’s determination to safeguard peace and prosperity.
Today, we again urge those on the other side of the Taiwan Strait to take note that now is the most appropriate time for mainland China to move toward constitutional democracy. The Chinese mainland is experiencing rapid economic growth, and its people lead affluent lives. As an ancient saying goes: “People cannot concern themselves with questions of honor or disgrace until their need for clothing and food is first taken care of, nor can they take any interest in matters of propriety until their granaries are full.” Now that the 1.3 billion people on the mainland have become moderately wealthy, they will of course wish to enjoy greater democracy and rule of law. Such a desire has never been a monopoly of the West, but is the right of all humankind.
I would like to again express my strong support for the people of Hong Kong, who have been seeking universal suffrage in the election of their chief executive. The democratic development of mainland China and Hong Kong will be determined by the wisdom and character that the mainland Chinese leaders show in their attitude toward reform. Thirty years ago, when Deng Xiaoping was pushing for reform and opening up in the mainland, he famously proposed letting some people get rich first. So why couldn’t they do the same thing in Hong Kong, and let some people go democratic first? After all, mainland China would simply be making good on a pledge made 17 years ago, when they said that for 50 years they would allow “rule of Hong Kong by the people of Hong Kong,” “a high degree of autonomy,” and “election of the chief executive through universal suffrage.” Doing precisely this would be a sure-fire way to convert crisis into opportunity. It would definitely be a win-win scenario for both the mainland and Hong Kong, and would be strongly welcomed by the people of Taiwan. Such a course of action would be a huge boost for the development of cross-strait relations. We hope wholeheartedly that Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China will all gradually forge ahead toward democracy and, step by step, realize the dream of our founding father, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, to achieve democracy.
We believe that there is no “plug-and-play” formula for democratic development. A constitutional system is difficult to transplant. However, it is sufficient that we simply move in the right direction. Because we are blessed with the wisdom shared by Chinese people everywhere, we have faith in our ability to find a path that strikes a proper balance between stable development, on the one hand, and democracy and freedom, on the other. The people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait share a common ancestry, culture, and history, so we would of course be happy to work hand-in-hand with people in the mainland, Hong Kong, and Macau, share our experiences, and jointly seek out the best way forward to political and economic reform in the mainland. The 23 million people of Taiwan would be quite willing to share their experience with democracy so that all descendants of Emperors Yan and Huang can take their rightful place in the world.
VI. Freedom, democracy, and a sustainable Taiwan
Of course, we must be willing to take an unblinking look back at the challenges that Taiwan has faced in its democratic development in recent years. Democracy is precious, but it is also very fragile. It needs to be treasured and protected, and it requires peaceable and rational expression of opinion. Otherwise, it could regress.
In the last year or two, protestors have resorted to some extremely zealous and illegal actions that ignored the lawful interests of people with different opinions. In some cases, they went so far as to occupy government buildings. Such undemocratic behavior has generated needless conflict, and allowed a minority to prevent legislative deliberations on many pending bills. Countries around the world are pressing forward to establish economic and trade alliances and take part in the process of regional economic integration, but Taiwan has remained at a standstill on this front. Indeed, some commentators in the international media have felt that we are perfectly willing to be left behind. This is a cause for serious concern.
For Taiwan’s economy, a number of policies must be pursued for us to find our way forward. Most importantly, we must pursue industrial restructuring, move faster to innovate and create added value, carry out deregulation, open up our markets, conclude bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation agreements, and establish free economic pilot zones. There is no reason why these proposed measures, which put Taiwan first for the benefit of the people, cannot be debated rationally. What we have encountered, however, is pure obstructionism that has made progress impossible. If those who oppose our policies refuse to engage in discussion and are unable to propose any alternative, then they are not acting in the spirit of democracy, and Taiwan can only watch helplessly as its competitive advantages slip away. I believe this is not acceptable to most of our citizens.
The flaws of democracy can only be corrected through a more fully developed democracy. As president of the Republic of China, I have pledged to abide by the Constitution, and I firmly believe that a democratic process which emphasizes reason, peace, and tolerance is the most effective means to overcome differences of opinion. On this day, the birthday of the nation, I sincerely urge everyone in the opposition camp to return to the system of democratic constitutionalism. Let us all stay within the system and communicate with sincerity. We need to move as quickly as possible to complete enactment of important acts that the ruling and opposition camps both want passed, such as the Special Act for Free Economic Pilot Zones and the Cross-Strait Agreement Supervisory Act. And I want to take this opportunity to stress once again that I personally, as well as all the agencies in our government, are quite willing to uphold democracy by talking with people from all walks of life in a spirit of complete candor. The democratic system is not perfect, but as long as we remain rational, peaceful, and tolerant, it will certainly be one that encourages dialogue, communication, and the resolution of issues. Because we believe in democracy and the rule of law, we should respect one another and go through democratic procedures to resolve disputes in a rational manner.
Fellow countrymen, I thank you all for your efforts and support. You have brought vitality, prosperity, and warmth to today’s Taiwan. Beyond that, however, we also have a responsibility and obligation to build a more advanced constitutional democracy in the Republic of China that will be a valuable asset for future generations. This democracy will serve as a guidepost for ethnic Chinese societies the world over. As president of the Republic of China, I will most certainly do everything in my power to safeguard the Republic of China’s democratic constitutional system.
Now, let us all join in proclaiming:
Long live the Republic of China!
Long live Taiwan democracy!