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President Tsai's response to Pope Francis's Message for 2019 World Day of Peace
President Tsai's response to Pope Francis's Message for 2019 World Day of Peace

President Tsai Ing-wen recently sent a letter to Pope Francis of the Catholic Church in response to his message marking the 52nd World Day of Peace.

The following is the full text of the president's letter to the pope:

It was with great admiration that I read your message for the 52nd World Day of Peace in 2019, bearing the theme "good politics is at the service of peace." I strongly identify with your eloquent exhortation, which draws renewed attention to the universal human virtues, commitment to the common good, and attention to youth cultivation that lie at the heart of such politics, and reminds politicians not to forego the sacred mission of advancing peace out of desire for fame, wealth and power.

Your Holiness cites the profound writings of the late Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận, who expected politicians to be consistent, exemplify credibility, be capable of listening, work for unity, and work to accomplish radical change. Persecuted for his religious beliefs in 1975 following the Communist Party of Vietnam's ascension to power, and imprisoned without trial for 13 years, he firmly held on to his faith in times of despair to write books such as the The Road of Hope, which has inspired countless people around the world.

After leaving prison, Cardinal Văn Thuận was appointed to serve as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The late Pope John Paul II called him a "witness to hope." He also visited Taiwan in 2000 to deliver a speech. Indeed, his experience has given tremendous spiritual encouragement to the people of Taiwan, as it resonates with our country's predicament and the belief we have maintained in freedom and democracy despite longstanding suppression and isolation in the international arena.

Currently, the Republic of China (Taiwan) is recognized by only 17 countries, among which is the Holy See. Even the World Health Organization (WHO), whose mission it is to advance the health and wellbeing of all mankind, has excluded the 23 million of people of Taiwan due to political factors. 

Nevertheless, Taiwan has never taken a vengeful stance in response. On the contrary, Taiwan has actively sought to properly fulfill its responsibility as a member of the international community, responding to calls for international humanitarian assistance and echoing Your Holiness's encyclical letter Laudato Si'. We have promoted environmental protection and sustainable development around the world. Furthermore, we have signed cooperation agreements or MOUs with 18 countries on immigration affairs and prevention of human trafficking, underscoring Taiwan's determination to play a role in matters of universal concern and act in line with international views in an all-out effort to end this immoral practice.

During an interview in June 2018 with Agence France-Presse (AFP), I was asked about my views on China's constant suppression of Taiwan. In response, I said that the best term to describe Taiwan is resilience, not because we have the wherewithal to compete with China in an arms race or a trade war, but because our firm commitment to democracy and human rights will lead us to a prosperous future. 

This same spirit was shown by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波). Imprisoned until death for allegedly inciting subversion of state power, he stated in a letter to the court that he had no enemies and harbored no hatred, and expressed optimism that a free China would emerge. These sentiments were based on his belief that no force would be able to impede the people's desire for and pursuit of freedom, as well as his intense hope that the rule of law and human rights would eventually prevail in China.

Experiencing great agony and paying with his own life, Liu Xiaobo gave expression to mankind's humble yearning with regard to politics, hoping that in his own country different values, philosophies, belief systems and political views would compete with each other yet coexist peacefully.

Taiwan has made the arduous journey from an authoritarian system to a democratic one. Because of the sacrifices and efforts of previous generations, we now enjoy democracy and freedom. We deeply cherish these hard-won accomplishments, and are eager to share our democratization experience with others.

In 2018, we marked the centennial of the end of World War I, as well as the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Your Holiness aptly warns against the uncontrolled proliferation of arms and escalation of intimidation. History teaches us that war and violence are never the solution. Politicians should abandon rigid positions of antagonism, demonstrate wisdom, and create conflict resolution mechanisms based on rational dialogue.

As President, I pay close attention to the international situation. It is my urgent responsibility to make sure that Taiwan can survive and develop in a highly volatile global environment. Therefore, I have stated clearly that China must face the reality of the existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan); respect the collective commitment of the Taiwanese people to freedom and democracy; handle cross-strait differences peacefully on the basis of equality; and recognize that negotiations must be conducted by governments or government-authorized agencies. These four elements serve as the most basic and crucial foundation for the positive development of cross-strait relations.

China has not relinquished its threat to invade Taiwan by force. It continues to suppress Taiwan's presence in the international arena, aiming to diminish our status therein. However, similar to the French poet Charles Péguy whom Your Holiness refers to, we believe that the spirit of peace will certainly overcome the law of violence. Charles Péguy's life experience shows us that human freedom, equality and dignity are core values that, in the end, will always supersede the constraints imposed by any political ideology.

Please accept, Your Holiness, the assurances of my highest consideration, as well as my best wishes for your personal wellbeing as you continue your fine work.

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