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President Tsai holds 2017 year-end press conference
President Tsai holds 2017 year-end press conference

On the afternoon of December 29 President Tsai Ing-wen took part in the 2017 year-end press conference for the Presidential Office press corps. In her remarks, the president spoke about the government's various reform policies and achievements in addressing self-sufficiency in national defense, international economics and trade, steadfast diplomacy, and economic reform. She also pledged that the government will overcome existing challenges and achieve its set objectives. 

The following is a translation of President Tsai's remarks:

Fellow citizens, and friends from domestic and foreign media: Good afternoon.

As the year 2017 draws to a close, we have specially chosen to hold this year-end press conference at the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science & Technology. This is the strategic center of Taiwan's national defense science and technology efforts. Holding the press conference here underscores our determination for self-sufficiency in national defense and protecting Taiwan's democracy.  

We live in an era of rapid change. Governments around the world are re-thinking their overall national security strategies and the direction of their future development.

This is especially true in Taiwan, given the unpredictable geopolitical environment we live in. As seen by the increasingly frequency of air and sea activities by the People's Liberation Army, China's intention to expand their military presence in the region has become increasingly evident. Tensions in the Korean peninsula and territorial disputes in East Asian maritime areas and the South China Sea have all added to regional complexity.

Furthermore, strategic considerations between the United States and China, the lack of overall progress in regional economic and trade integration, and the continued possibility of geopolitical conflicts, mean that Taiwan cannot afford any miscalculations.

Therefore, one of my foremost tasks since taking office has been to find Taiwan's position and its path forward, amid these many regional and global variables.

This is why I have consistently emphasized self-sufficiency in national defense. If Taiwan wants to defend its sovereignty and maintain regional peace, stability and prosperity, we cannot depend on others. Upgrading our own military capabilities is the strongest way to guarantee our national security.   

As president of the Republic of China, I am responsible for safeguarding national sovereignty and maintaining regional peace and stability.

Today, we have two model prototypes here at this event. One is our self-developed unmanned aerial vehicle, the Tengyun, a multifunctional drone with surveillance capabilities. I want to let my countrymen know that the Tengyun is about to begin mass production.

The other model is the latest advanced training aircraft. Thanks to the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science & Technology and domestic companies, this aircraft will have its maiden flight in 2020, a key step in our program to build our own aircraft domestically.  

Taiwan may not be big, but we are very determined to defend our country. As commander-in-chief of the Republic of China's armed forces, strengthening national defense combat capabilities and defending our national security have always been among my most important tasks. 

Over the past year or so, the morale of our armed forces has gradually recovered and public support for the military has continued to increase. Seeing this take place has been one of my most rewarding developments since assuming office.

Here, I solemnly pledge that, we will continue to increase our defense budget in a stable and reasonable basis each year. "Self-sufficiency in national defense" is not just a slogan. It's a mission that we are fully devoted to fulfilling every day.

Meanwhile, in international economics and trade, we've seen the US propose a "free and open Indo-Pacific" policy. Mainland China has its One Belt, One Road policy. Japan and India are jointly advocating a "free corridor," while Korea has a New Southern Policy. These initiatives show that all the countries in our region want to establish closer economic and trade ties.

Taiwan also has its own strategy. The New Southbound Policy is our key regional strategy for Asia. Already, we've seen positive responses from South and Southeast Asian countries.

Over the past year or more, we've strengthened trade, investment, tourism, and cultural exchanges and cooperation with all New Southbound countries. We've also promoted exchanges and bilateral discussions in various areas, while pursuing memorandums of understanding and cooperation agreements. All of these efforts will provide people in our region with more institutionalized protections in the course of their exchanges with each other.

Between January and October of this year, Taiwan's bilateral trade with the 18 New Southbound countries grew almost 20% compared with last year. Tourism from New Southbound countries has increased over 30% and today we have over 31,000 exchange students from these countries studying in Taiwan. People from those countries are now a common sight on the streets of Taiwan, thanks to the New Southbound Policy.

As we look to the south, Taiwan will continue to find new opportunities. Over the next year, the New Southbound Policy will move into a more comprehensive promotion and integration stage. We will leverage our existing cooperative foundations to develop strategic partnerships with New Southbound countries.

For industries where Taiwan has advantages and the ability to develop southward, including petrochemicals, agriculture and medical care, we will also integrate public and private sector forces, while strengthening and integrating support mechanisms. We will make a special effort to provide consulting and assistance services for small and medium enterprises. Through teamwork, we can create a New Southbound industrial chain with countries that are willing to cooperate.   

Cross-strait relations are crucial to maintaining regional peace and prosperity. I want my countrymen to rest assured that cross-strait relations will not be reckless. They will not be deadlocked. They won't return to the standoff we saw during the authoritarian Kuomintang era of the past.

Our unchanging position is to maintain the status quo. This is Taiwan's commitment to our region and the world. Peace, prosperity and development in Asia are common responsibilities of all the countries in the region. Therefore, cross-strait issues are issues of regional peace. Taiwan will fulfill its responsibilities of maintaining regional security by continuing to harbor goodwill and maintaining stable, consistent and predictable cross-strait relations.  

Dignity and respect, stable cross-strait relations, and engaging with the international community are the collective aspirations of the Taiwanese people. This is also my mission.

Since we took office, Vice President Chen Chien-jen and I have made five state visits on behalf of the Republic of China. We have seen Taiwan's technical and medical missions and diplomatic personnel in many places across the world. Their expertise and efforts have proven to the world time and again that Taiwan is willing and able to contribute even more to international society.

In many areas including industrial innovation, sustainable development, and humanitarian aid, Taiwan has taken an active role and spared no effort, making us an important member of international society. This is steadfast diplomacy. This is Taiwan's strength.

Taiwan must be strong, and most importantly, its economy must be strong. Economic conditions around the world are now improving. In this environment, the government's most important mission is to seize the opportunities provided by this economic resurgence. We have to speed up implementation of next-generation infrastructure projects and the transformation of our domestic industrial structure.

Last week, work began on the Chiayi Urban District Elevated Railway Project and Taichung's mass rapid transit system will hold its first trials at the end of next year. The Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program I announced in my year-end press conference last year is well underway.

The "5+2 industrial innovation program" is also showing excellent progress. In a little more than a year, we've doubled our total installed solar photovoltaic capacity. Our policy for developing offshore wind power generation is receiving attention from green energy companies around the world.

By 2020, foreign and domestic investment in Taiwan's green energy market will total more than NT$250 billion. Green energy companies from around the world are now focusing on Taiwan—something we've never seen before. These investments will bring to Taiwan not only electric power, but many more high-quality job opportunities.

In addition to green energy projects, Taiwan's traditional industries are being transformed under our Smart Machinery Development Program. Many traditional manufacturers are introducing smart manufacturing processes. Higher quality products have increased the demand for skilled professionals and this is how high-wage jobs are being created.

At the same time, the government is also re-examining the legal and regulatory framework that governs the market as a whole. Where adjustments are needed, we'll move quickly to amend laws or pass new legislation. This will ensure that our legal regime is in step with the times, and that instead of hindering our progress, they will promote economic development.

We have adopted the Act for the Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals to bring more capable foreign talent to Taiwan. We have also amended the Statute for Industrial Innovation to give innovative industries more space to spread their wings. Next, we'll promote revisions to the tax code and amend the Company Act to create a more competitive economic environment.

I especially want to emphasize that economic transformation means more than just closing the gaps left by past stagnation and obsolescence. It means addressing today's huge shifts in global economics and trade, through forward-looking changes to the way we deploy resources. We're racing against time and the government will pool our collective strengths and make comprehensive adjustments to improve the internal mechanisms and structure of our economy and industries.

If we have the determination, we can reshape Taiwan's economy and re-create the Taiwan economic miracle.

This administration is doing things that previous administrations should have done, but didn't do because they were concerned about the political costs.

With the fear that actions will lead to offense, they preferred to do nothing. This is a vicious cycle that has made young people feel our society is unjust and that they are disenfranchised.

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2017 is "youthquake," reflecting the tremendous social impact of the younger generation. This is a global phenomenon and the youth of Taiwan are no exception.

If young people are still willing to listen to what the government has to say, I want to tell you: I understand your anxiety about the future, and will do everything I can to change Taiwan's future. My administration's most important task in 2018 is to do everything possible to improve the problem of low wages for young people.

I'll use five methods to put an end to low wages for young people.

The first and most important method is to upgrade and transform the industrial sector. Our project to achieve local production of fighter jets, which I just mentioned, has already generated over 700 R&D and manufacturing job opportunities in the aeronautics industry alone. The number of new jobs in the aeronautics industry as a whole could eventually reach 2,000.

The National Chung-Shan Institute of Science & Technology, the site of today's press conference, has hired almost 1,500 new employees since my inauguration on May 20 last year. Even during this press conference, the young people here are working hard at building Taiwan's defense industry. It takes high-quality jobs like this to fundamentally improve the salary situation for young people.

At the same time, we'll identify low-wage industries, and help them upgrade and transform more quickly by adopting new technologies or moving to new business models.

The second approach is to continue encouraging companies to raise pay levels. The government will provide support to companies willing to give bigger pay raises. When companies share more of their profits with employees, this increases employees' buying power, creating a positive cycle that benefits both enterprise and labor.

Third, we will continue adjusting the minimum wage. In the past, a monthly wage of NT$22,000 was seen as a ceiling for young people starting their careers. But we've adjusted the minimum wage twice over the past year. Beginning in 2018, a monthly wage of NT$22,000 will no longer be the ceiling, but very minimum.

Next, we're going to promote a minimum wage act, giving us a legal basis to set the minimum wage. It will also provide enough space to incorporate all the factors that impact labor and capital into minimum wage discussions.

We can't raise the minimum wage to an appropriate level all at once. And we won't ask small and medium enterprises to bear the burden alone. The government will provide guidance and assistance to ensure that productivity keeps pace with wage increases.

Fourth, for young people doing low-wage or atypical jobs, the government has the responsibility to provide career counseling services, adequate job training, and even special allowances and incentives to ensure that young people have more career options.

And fifth, we want to lighten the burdens in young people's lives. We will therefore promote social housing, public childcare and pre-school education, and long-term care. I know that many young people—and especially those from underprivileged backgrounds—have significant student loans.

To address these situations, we will start formulating ways to further reduce student loan interest rates and provide subsidies to young people who are continuously employed after graduation.

In addition to raising the low wages paid to young people, we'll also take steps to address the employment needs of the underprivileged. We want to improve pay levels and working conditions for women, middle-aged and older workers, indigenous peoples, and others engaged in atypical work.

Of course, these methods will take time. We can't expect immediate solutions. But I want to take this opportunity to tell the whole administration what I keep telling myself: It's our duty to resolve the problem of low wages for young people. If we don't start now, we are letting the current and future generations of young people down.

Since I took office on May 20 last year, the most important demand I made of myself is to do what previous presidents feared to do. I promised that I would promote reforms that previous governments feared promoting.

Pension reforms have helped stabilize a civil service pension system that was on the verge of collapse. Providing social housing was previously considered impossible. But now, through the amended Housing Act and a newly adopted special residential tenancy act, it's being implemented through building projects, subletting management schemes for private properties, and floor area incentives.

Several days ago there was a media report about a woman surnamed Yang who, with her three grandchildren, became the first to move into social housing in Taipei under the new subletting management scheme. Things are starting to change.

While in the past there was an endless series of food safety issues, inspections have been strengthened and stricter penalties imposed through amendments to the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation. We're also promoting integration of the multiple certification marks used for agricultural products in the past to help restore consumer confidence. Things are starting to change.

Large-scale expansion of elderly care services was impossible in the past, but after ensuring that we have the necessary financial resources, our Long-Term Care 2.0 Plan took effect this year. We increased the number of people receiving care, doubled the original number of recipient categories from four to eight, and increased the original eight care types to 17. In particular, long-term care now includes care for dementia, helping to reduce the burdens on even more families.

We've also proposed concrete solutions for issues that people have expressed concern over: child care, early childhood education, air pollution, and the fair utilization of water resources.

This year, we also established the first nation-wide Indigenous Radio Station and a Hakka Radio Station. The widely criticized "bird-cage" referendum law was amended this month. Legislative proceedings for an act promoting transitional justice have been completed, and Taiwan will now enter the ranks of countries promoting transitional justice.

Judicial reform is a focal point. The resolutions of the Presidential Office National Conference on Judicial Reform are being implemented and an initial draft has already been produced to implement a lay participation system. Competition between political parties is fairer now due to enforcement of the Political Party Act and the Statute Governing Ill-Gotten Assets of Political Parties and Their Affiliated Organizations. One by one, questions from the past regarding ambiguous ownership of political party assets are also being resolved.

I understand very clearly that the people of Taiwan expect me to be different from previous presidents. I have the determination to promote the reforms and transformation that Taiwan needs.

All of our efforts are directed toward a common goal: I want the next generation of young people in Taiwan to live in a different kind of country.

My 500 plus days as president have been full of conflicting emotions. It's rewarding when we push through a new reform or see a new mechanism launched. But when these efforts run into difficulties or opposition, I go home in the evening and struggle over the question: Do I really want to stay on the course?

Every time I struggle with this question, the answer is always the same: I have to stay the course. These are things that must be done. I know that reforms often set off street protests. And there's often a political price to pay in the form of lower approval ratings. But I am prepared for that.

But as long as reforms benefit Taiwan, I have neither complaints nor regrets. If I could do it all over again, I would still be willing to see reforms through and fight to the end for a better Taiwan.

The year 2017 may have seemed tumultuous, but through it all, Taiwan has moved steadily forward.

Just this past Wednesday, Premier William Lai (賴清德) held a year-end press conference to outline key policy initiatives for the coming year. He showed that our administration has a clear sense of direction and sets high objectives. Here, I want to give my highest praise to our entire government, including both the Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan.

I want to emphasize once again that change cannot wait and our efforts are a race against time. We steady our pace, but we cannot slow down.

In conclusion, I want to ask everyone to look behind me at the image of Jade Mountain, Taiwan's tallest peak. In the coming year, our government's goal is to overcome our difficulties and take Taiwan to new heights.

Climbing uphill may be hard, but if we think about the beautiful views that lie ahead, we'll have the confidence to keep pushing forward. I want to extend early wishes to one and all for a Happy New Year. I wish everyone happiness over the next year. Thank you.

Following her speech, President Tsai fielded questions from the media about national defense policy, Taiwan's relations with mainland China and the US, air pollution, labor regulations, and salary stagnation.

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