President Tsai Ing-wen attended the 2018 spring banquet held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for foreign ambassadors and representatives stationed in Taiwan at the Grand Hotel in Taipei on the evening of February 27. In remarks, the president expressed Taiwan's gratitude for assistance and condolences from around the world following the recent earthquake in Hualien. She also reiterated that the government will continue to enhance bilateral exchanges and cooperation with the United States, Japan, the European Union, and countries targeted by the New Southbound Policy through mutual assistance for mutual benefits and substantive cooperation. The president stressed that we will work with all the countries in the region to safeguard the shared achievements of freedom and openness.
The following is a translation of President Tsai's remarks:
I'm delighted to be with you again today to ring in the new year. I want to start off by wishing everyone a belated Happy New Year, and a prosperous and peaceful Year of the Dog.
The Lantern Festival is coming up this Friday, the last major event of the new year season here in Taiwan. This year's official Taiwan Lantern Festival will be held in Chiayi. And since all the diplomats and representatives stationed in Taiwan are here tonight, I want to invite you to join us for this important festival.
Today is our spring banquet, so I want to specially thank all the ambassadors and representatives for your assistance and support for Taiwan over the past year.
Last year I visited Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and the Solomon Islands. I also received a courteous reception during transit stops in the United States including Houston, San Francisco, Hawaii, and Guam.
During those visits, I witnessed firsthand how cooperation based on mutual assistance for mutual benefits has strengthened our bilateral diplomacy. Our technical and medical missions in particular have established great friendships with local residents. I was also quite impressed by the local employment opportunities we've created through academic exchanges and commercial investments, as well as our joint support for initiatives that promote the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Over the past year, I've also publically thanked our allies many times for supporting Taiwan in international venues. In the UN General Assembly and its affiliated organizations, the World Health Assembly, or the International Civil Aviation Organization, we have many friends that speak up when Taiwan receives unfair treatment. So once again, I want to thank you all for your gracious support.
Our diplomatic efforts are based on the principle of "steadfast diplomacy and mutual assistance for mutual benefits." So even though it hasn't always been smooth sailing, through mutual consultation and substantive cooperation, our diplomatic efforts have made steady progress. The road ahead may have many challenges, but I'm confident that together, we can overcome them.
Last year we also implemented our New Southbound Policy, and we've already seen significant results. Between January and October, total bilateral trade with Southbound Policy countries grew by almost 20%, and the number of students from those countries studying in Taiwan exceeded 31,000.
In addition, even though the number of mainland Chinese tour groups has decreased, and they used to be our biggest source of tourists, the overall number of tourists to Taiwan has continued to increase.
So at many of Taiwan's tourist destinations, in addition to visitors from Japan and Korea, liberalized visa requirements have also attracted more and more tourists from New Southbound countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia.
Of course, I'll also ask our Tourism Bureau and all of our county and city governments to step up their promotional efforts. I'm sure all the diplomats and representatives are also avid travelers. So you know about all the fun you can have in Taipei, but you also know that Taiwan has many other beautiful places well worth visiting.
In addition to the New Southbound Policy, we're continuing to upgrade our relations with the US, Japan, the EU, and other countries. Just a few days ago when I received a congressional delegation from the US, I thanked the members of the House and Senate for supporting the Taiwan Travel Act. Last year, in its National Security Strategy Report, the US also pledged to maintain "strong ties" with Taiwan, once again showing that the US-Taiwan relationship, based on shared values, continues to grow stronger.
And several weeks ago I was on an inspection visit to Hualien, which was struck by an earthquake early this month, and met some Japanese experts providing rescue assistance. Singapore also sent a special plane with relief supplies. All of these gestures point to Taiwan's close friendships with those countries.
At the same time, high-level visits, bilateral dialogue, and agreements or memorandums of understanding between Taiwan and other like-minded countries are increasing, and addressing a wider range of substantive issues.
We're also currently implementing our Forward-Looking Infrastructure Development Program, and when I receive foreign guests, their interest in investing in Taiwan is strong. So I look forward to even more cooperative exchanges with other countries to deepen our bilateral relationships.
Taiwan is a responsible member of the international community. Although we face many challenges and pressures, we never sell ourselves short, or shirk our responsibility to the international community.
We believe that peace, stability, and prosperity in East Asia are crucial to a rules-based global order. So I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm that Taiwan's position on maintaining the status quo in cross-strait relations will not change. But I also want to remind everyone that no single country is solely responsible for maintaining that status quo. It requires a concerted effort by all countries in the region.
I also want to emphasize again that Taiwan, as a free and democratic nation in the Indo-Pacific region, is naturally an important part of the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" strategy. So we'll work with all the countries in the region to safeguard the shared achievements of freedom and openness, and protect a rules-based international order.
After the Hualien earthquake, in addition to Japan and Singapore, we also received aid and condolences from many countries around the world. At a time like this, it's truly heartwarming to see our friends express their concern. On behalf of the people of Taiwan, I want to express our deepest gratitude to everyone here.
So this year is the Year of the Dog. I myself have three dogs, and I'm sure that many of the diplomats and representatives here are dog lovers, too. In Taiwan, dogs have always been lovable animals and treasured pets, as well as a symbol of "flourishing prosperity." That means in the coming year, Taiwan is sure to keep getting better. So please join me in a toast to a smooth and successful new year. Thank you.
President Tsai then joined the distinguished guests for dinner and a lively program of performances to welcome the new year in a friendly and festive atmosphere.
Among those attending the event were Control Yuan President Chang Po-ya (張博雅) and her husband, National Security Council Secretary-General David T. Lee (李大維), Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), Nicaraguan Ambassador to the ROC William Manuel Tapia Aleman (head of the foreign diplomatic corps in Taiwan), and foreign diplomats stationed in Taiwan