At 7:30 a.m. on Friday, January 13 local time (9:30 p.m. on January 13 Taipei time), President Tsai Ing-wen and her accompanying delegation, who were in Central America on a trip codenamed the "Ing-Jie Project," met over breakfast at their hotel with the traveling press corps to outline the successes of the trip as well as the policy the government intends to adopt in the future on the diplomatic front. The president also took questions from the reporters regarding cross-strait relations and foreign affairs.
In remarks, President Tsai stated that this trip has presented big challenges to diplomats, and also to the traveling press corps and the members of her delegation. “We've visited four countries, and I'm sure that our friends in the press corps will have observed that each of these countries has its own unique cultural background,” she added.
President Tsai pointed out that these Latin American countries have put their past political turbulence behind them while public safety is much improved. Peace fills people with hope for the future, so in exchanging views with heads of state during this trip, said the president, she has noticed that these countries are especially focused on economic development. Apart from economic revitalization, principal concerns of these governments include such things as infrastructure development, cultivation of human resources, and improvement of public health. Honduras has in fact dispatched personnel to Taiwan to study the national health insurance and social benefit systems.
The president noted that Taiwan ought to take a different line of thought in the future regarding its foreign policy. In the past, Taiwan has been relatively focused on simple or one-way foreign aid, but hopefully in the future we can move toward a model for bilateral cooperation that places more stress on spurring economic and social development. I would also hope, she said, to strengthen the role of bilateral cooperation with respect to economic and trade ties and the development of markets.
President Tsai stated that it would be more mutually beneficial if economic and trade cooperation projects between Taiwan and its diplomatic allies were defined as market-driven. In our economic and trade relations with other countries, there are three important markets that would be worth further shaping and developing: Latin American countries and their neighbors, North America, and Asia.
The president indicated that delegation member Chan Cheng-tien (詹正田), the chairman of the Taiwan Textile Federation, told her that after he gets back to Taiwan he will urge textile firms to review and rethink their global strategies regarding the locations of overseas operations.
President Tsai said that the Taiwan government hopes to do three things. First, it wants to ask experts in specific industrial markets to study the markets of our diplomatic allies and identify opportunities for bilateral cooperation that would yield maximum investment and trade benefits. Second, our government will encourage and help the business community to organize delegations to visit diplomatic allies and interact with local companies, and to use their business acumen to identify the most appropriate investment opportunities. And third, we will make use of currently existing free trade agreements, including free trade agreements between Taiwan and its diplomatic allies, free trade agreements between Central American countries, and free trade agreements and incentive measures between Central American countries and the United States. These approaches will help us as we consider future steps we might take to spur Taiwan's economic and trade relations in these regions.
With respect to the New Southbound Policy, for example, President Tsai noted that human resources are very important. Taiwan uses scholarships and a variety of special programs to assist young people from abroad so that they can receive education in Taiwan and interact with our young people. And young men from Taiwan can perform alternative military service by going to diplomatic allies to work there and experience life in a different culture. Participation in these sorts of exchange will hopefully help them grow and perhaps even establish new business startups. The president said she hopes to continue expanding these scholarship and exchange mechanisms. We might take advantage of the Asian Silicon Valley project and other such initiatives, she said, to boost cross-border youth entrepreneurship.
The president further pointed out that Taiwan will continue to provide assistance in the areas of infrastructure development and public health. With infrastructure development, in particular, we will seek to identify feasible business models, and future considerations regarding specific projects will be based on the principle of mutual assistance for mutual benefits.
President Tsai said she hopes that after digesting the information obtained during her two state visits to Central America, we can devise a comprehensive economic and trade policy along with a related set of coordinated measures to provide an even more stable foundation for economic and trade ties between Taiwan and its diplomatic allies.
Following the conclusion of her remarks, President Tsai took questions from the reporters. In response to a question about the actual content of the "steadfast diplomacy" policy, the president stated that a decision about how much capital to invest in any given diplomatic ally is determined on the basis of specific project needs and the likely investment returns. In vetting a potential project, the government will seek to identify the cooperation model that offers the best economic returns. Factors considered include market size and competitive advantages, and the whole process is driven by technical considerations. In the future, as we work to shape relations with our diplomatic allies, we will need to make use of the abilities of our business firms, the competitive advantages of our industries, and our capabilities for developing technologies and talent. And we will also need to make good use of the potential of local and other markets to come up with the best combinations.
The president pointed out that the countries of Latin America have put their past political turbulence behind them, and their people have high expectations for national development and employment. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and the First Lady, for example, emphatically state that creating job opportunities is a very important responsibility of the government. Taiwan is willing to help Nicaragua and other diplomatic allies to create more job opportunities for their people. When a society begins to move toward stability and prosperity, it begins to move toward democracy. Taiwan, said the president, hopes to use economic and trade cooperation to promote its diplomatic allies' economic and social development.
In response to a reporter's question about whether Taiwan might be treated as a "bargaining chip" by the United States and mainland China, President Tsai stated that in terms of aggregate national power, Taiwan is not such a small country. We have real power, and the ability to handle issues on our periphery as well as relations with important diplomatic allies. And in the course of such dealings, our most important principle is to act in line with Taiwan's interests, the will of the people, and public opinion regarding foreign relations. We do not want our handling of external affairs to stir up division at home. We want everyone to be able to sit down and clearly communicate and form a cohesive force. In this manner, we will wield greater power in our handling of external affairs, and will be able to more fully demonstrate the will of the Taiwanese people.
When asked about attempts by mainland China to press countries with which Taiwan has no diplomatic relations to abide by the "one China principle," President Tsai pointed out that Taiwan has the ability to handle its foreign relations. As for actions by mainland China in recent days, the president said they were unhelpful to the maintenance of peaceful and stable cross-strait relations, and mainland China should think hard about how effective such actions actually are and whether they are helpful to the maintenance of peaceful and stable cross-strait relations.
With regard to concerns among the media about how much money is being spent on foreign aid, President Tsai stated that relations between Taiwan and the countries of Latin America have already shifted from the one-way foreign aid of the past toward relations based primarily on mutually beneficial bilateral economic and trade ties. We are willing to help our diplomatic allies achieve economic and social development, and toward that end our government will seek to identify appropriate cooperation projects by which to provide assistance. From a broad and long-term perspective, these projects are actually also beneficial to Taiwan. Scholarships and projects carried out by the International Cooperation and Development Fund, for example, may strike some as nothing but expenses, but if you look at them from another angle, you can see that they can expand Taiwan's social position in these countries. In addition to the connections we establish with local people, such projects can also cultivate the talent needed when Taiwanese companies invest there. In that sense, said the president, there is every reason to believe that Taiwan's relations with its diplomatic allies in the future will be more oriented toward meeting the needs of both sides, which is conducive to economic development.
A bit earlier, Minister of Foreign Affairs David T. Lee (李大維), commenting on the successes achieved during the current trip and recent foreign relations topics, stated that overseas visits by the head of state are very important work. The benefits of face-to-face meetings, in particular, cannot be achieved in any other way. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez called President Tsai his favorite daughter. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega called her his sister. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said that Guatemala was President Tsai's home. These are all successes, and it is clear to see that relations between Taiwan and its diplomatic allies are stable and close.
Foreign Minister Lee said that diplomacy is ongoing in nature. The project to widen Guatemala's Highway CA-9, for example, began in 2006. Taiwan has had three different presidents since then, and the road widening will continue. It is an important project to improve the economic lifeline of Guatemala, and the Overseas Engineering & Construction Company, a Taiwanese firm, is acting as the general contractor. In the future, we will see even more Taiwanese engineers and managerial personnel involved in the project.
Foreign Minister Lee pointed out that every country has a different culture, and the backgrounds of their leaders are not the same. Each leader has his or her own personal style and logic, which may or may not completely accord with what we are accustomed to. This creates difficulties for our friends in the media, and sometimes causes diplomatic incidents. For example, in the view of Nicaraguan government, President Tsai was the very first foreign head of state that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega met with at the time of his inauguration, and the Nicaraguan First Lady felt this was a very special honor for President Tsai, so they were quite perplexed by the way one of Taiwan's media reported on it.
Noting that he himself has been engaged in diplomatic work for over 30 years, Foreign Minister Lee said that from a historical perspective, the cross-strait diplomatic standoff is a war without gun smoke. Tensions were once much worse than now, and then there was a period when some people may have felt things had changed, but in fact the tensions had just gone underground. Foreign Minister Lee stressed that the members of Taiwan's diplomatic corps will throw themselves earnestly into their work and respond properly to whatever situations may arise in order to afford maximum protection for our national interests.