President Tsai Ing-wen was invited by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to deliver an address via video at 5:00 a.m. this morning (December 9 local time; December 8, 4:00 p.m. US EST) at the 2020 NDI Celebration of Democracy Gala.
In addition to congratulating Vice President-elect Kamala Devi Harris on becoming the United States' first woman vice president, President Tsai also praised US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi for winning NDI's Democracy Award in honor of her contributions at home and abroad in staunchly supporting democracy and civil liberties. President Tsai stated that from our own experience, Taiwan understands that freedom and democracy cannot be taken for granted. Taiwan and the United States are both friends and partners, and both major US parties have shown a strong consensus on strengthening Taiwan-US relations and deepening our connection based on shared values. This gives the people of Taiwan confidence that when our countries seek new areas for cooperation, our bilateral friendship grows even stronger.
A transcript of the president's remarks follows:
Thank you all for your invitation to speak at NDI's annual gala in celebration of democracy. It is an honor to be here and share in this story about democracy, leadership, and invoking the words of the late John Lewis, "good trouble."
I want to congratulate the American people on another exercise of democracy, where we saw unprecedented levels of enthusiasm and turnout. I know that these exercises are always precious. They remind us about the lengths to which we must go to protect our democracies, freedoms, and way of life. This is not least because throughout so much of history, the right of people to choose their own leaders has been the exception rather than the norm.
John Lewis saw this clearly. As a giant in the civil rights movement, he stood against racism in all its shapes and forms. At great personal cost, he registered voters, ensured their constitutional right to vote, and contributed to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As he said, sometimes it is necessary to engage in "good trouble, necessary trouble" in order to achieve meaningful change.
In Taiwan, we know a thing or two about "good trouble." In 1986, the year John Lewis was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Taiwan established our first opposition party. The founders of this party were activists and protesters that were fighting for and imprisoned over their beliefs in democracy, human rights, and the freedom of expression. Their sacrifices were not in vain. They set Taiwan onto the path of becoming one of world's freest and most vibrant democracies.
It is these values we share today that bring Taiwan and the United States together like never before. We are proud that in our countries, we see women occupy some of the highest echelons of political office.
I want to express my congratulations to Vice President-elect Harris for becoming the first woman to hold this office. Another inspiring woman, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will be honored tonight with NDI's Democracy Award. This is a fitting commemoration for an individual who has stood so strongly for democracy and civil liberties both at home and abroad.
We are also so proud that Taiwan and the United States are amongst the few countries in the world where hundreds of thousands of people gather on the streets each year to promote and celebrate marriage equality.
This year for the first time, same-sex couples were married in our military's joint wedding ceremonies. We know that human rights are only meaningful when they apply equally to everyone, without exception.
But our efforts have not stopped there. In August, we established our first National Human Rights Commission to better monitor, secure, and strengthen human rights protections in Taiwan.
Our legislature has set up a new committee on human rights to tackle issues ranging from lowering the voting age to streamlining government functions. Following our National Congress on Judicial Reform, we will also continue to follow through, on reforms that make our judicial system fairer, more accountable, and transparent.
I also want to note the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy's role in advancing democracy and human rights in Asia and around the world. They have worked closely with NDI and IRI (International Republican Institute) as these organizations establish new offices in Taipei. I applaud that decision, as today, more than ever, Taiwan is at the forefront in defense of the democratic values that are so important to us all.
Taken together, it has been my commitment over the years for Taiwan to be that shining beacon of light in Asia, a country where our freedoms and democracy serve as inspiration for others.
But despite our successes so far, we know that many challenges remain. In Hong Kong, the rights and freedoms that so many had once taken for granted are now a relic of the past. And within Taiwan, faced with disinformation and other influence operations, we are constantly reminded of the need to be prepared and vigilant.
Our democracy does not exist in a vacuum. The rights we have worked so hard to secure are seen by others as a threat and a constant source of tension and friction.
We are grateful that for over past decades, the United States has always stood by its friend and partner, Taiwan. The bipartisan consensus over the strength of our relationship and the depth of our values has never been greater and more robust.
This has been a great source of reassurance to the people of Taiwan. And I am confident that our friendship will continue to grow closer as we seek new areas of cooperation and collaboration.
In closing, I wish to thank NDI again for your invitation. I also want to express my congratulations to Speaker Pelosi for receiving this exceptional honor, as well as my best wishes to all the speakers and participants of the Gala.
Thank you all for your continued support for Taiwan. I look forward to a successful program ahead.
NDI was established in 1983 in response to a call from former President Ronald Reagan to promote freedom and democracy around the globe, and maintain close cooperation among democratic advocacy groups of all kinds, political parties, and non-governmental organizations. The theme of this year's Celebration of Democracy Gala, "Good Trouble," was made famous by former US Congressman the late John Lewis. In addition to inviting President Tsai to deliver a virtual address, other international woman political figures were invited to share their perspectives on leadership, women's political empowerment, and "Good Trouble." During the gala, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also received the Democracy Award, underscoring her contributions to democracy and human rights.