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President Tsai attends opening of symposium on 30 years of cross-strait exchanges and prospects for the future
President Tsai attends opening of symposium on 30 years of cross-strait exchanges and prospects for the future

On the morning of October 26, President Tsai Ing-wen attended the opening ceremony of a symposium titled Cross-Strait Exchanges: A 30-Year Retrospective and Prospects for the Future. She reiterated the Taiwan government's long-term position that "our goodwill will not change, our commitments will not change, we will not revert to the old path of confrontation, and we will not bow to pressure." The president also appealed once again to the leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to embrace the harmony and moderation of traditional political wisdom, and seek a breakthrough in cross-strait relations to create long-term well-being for people on both sides, and eliminate hostility and the fear of war.

A translation of the president's remarks:

This year marks the 30th anniversary of cross-strait exchanges, and Taiwan's decision to allow citizens to visit relatives in mainland China. That gives today's symposium great historical significance.

In July 1987 Taiwan lifted martial law. In November of that year, our government decided to permit the hundreds of thousands of aging soldiers who came to Taiwan with the Kuomintang government to return to their hometowns to visit relatives. That formally ended the tragic separation of families due to cross-strait hostilities.

That year thus marked the beginning of a new chapter in peaceful cross-strait relations.

I want to take this opportunity to talk about part of history that is often overlooked.

Before martial law was lifted, our government had a "three no's" cross-strait policy of "no contact, no negotiation, and no compromise." All cross-strait interaction was a violation of political taboo, and illegal. But in 1987 a group of those aging soldiers took to the streets of Taipei to challenge that policy, wearing white shirts with the word "homesick" written on the front.

At that time, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had existed for less than a year, and still had limited power. The party nevertheless bravely supported the old soldiers and their cause.

Before the ban on visits to relatives in China was lifted, the DPP Central Standing Committee had already passed a resolution calling for an end to restrictions on cross-strait travel to visit relatives, arguing that cross-strait contacts between private citizens should be permitted. That stance helped spur the policy decision to allow visits to relatives in China, a historic milestone in the development of cross-strait relations.

That was the DPP's first effort as an opposition party to normalize cross-strait relations, highlighting the people-centered core of the party's cross-strait policy.

The wounds suffered by cross-strait families began to heal, and cross-strait contacts were no longer taboo, spurring increased interaction, familiarity, and understanding for people on both sides. Economic, social, cultural, sports, and academic exchanges soon followed, gradually gaining momentum and developing into wide-ranging people-to-people exchanges.

Since 1987, the people of Taiwan have made nearly 100 million trips to mainland China, and more than 24 million mainland nationals have travelled to Taiwan.

Indirect transport across the strait became direct transport. Currently, private airlines operate nearly 900 cross-strait flights per week, and more than 17 million indirect cross-strait trips have been made via Kinmen and Matsu over the years.

Cross-strait exchanges, which are basically people-to-people exchanges, clearly show how cross-strait relations have moved from hostility toward peace over the past 30 years.

Since our government established the Mainland Affairs Council and Straits Exchange Foundation in 1991, and passed the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area in 1992, cross-strait exchanges gradually gained semi-official, and then official status.

In 1992 representatives from both sides of the strait met for talks in Hong Kong. That launched a series of institutionalized cross-strait discussions, including two closely watched Koo-Wang Talks [discussions between Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫), former Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman, and Wang Daohan (汪道涵), former Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman] in the 1990s, and the signing of 23 cross-strait accords between 2008 and 2016.

The DPP government respects these historical facts, and generally accepts all the cross-strait accords that have been signed and ratified by the legislature.

After the DPP became the ruling party for the first time in 2000, there were some unexpected setbacks in cross-strait relations. But during our eight years in power, we still made promoting cross-strait exchanges and people's well-being our policy goals by pragmatically promoting the development of cross-strait relations.

The Taiwan government began implementing the three mini-links in 2001, a historic step toward direct cross-strait travel and transport. Through pragmatic cross-strait consultations, the two sides then agreed in 2003 to allow a limited number of one-way, indirect charter flights for Taiwan businesspeople during the Chinese New Year holidays. Beginning in 2005, restrictions were gradually relaxed to allow more frequent, two-way, direct charter flights to more destinations during four holiday seasons observed on both sides of the Taiwan Strait: Tomb-Sweeping Day, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Chinese New Year. This established an institutional foundation for more comprehensive, direct cross-strait travel.

Nevertheless, the stable development of cross-strait relations remained problematic because the ruling parties on the two sides had no previous contact or interaction, and insufficient mutual understanding.

I've always thought that a national leader must act in the best interests of the people as a whole. To have stable cross-strait relations, the ruling parties on both sides need to interact, increase mutual understanding, and gradually build trust so they can deal with issues surrounding cross-strait relations together.

Looking back on the past 30 years of cross-strait exchanges, although cross-strait relations are basically stable, we still hope for further improvement. The commitments I made at my inauguration in May of last year were made in good faith, with a strong commitment to continue promoting peaceful and stable cross-strait relations.

While uncertainties surrounding cross-strait relations remain, maintaining cross-strait peace, stability, and development is the highest consensus. Our principles for handling cross-strait relations have been consistent: “Our goodwill will not change, our commitments will not change, we will not revert to the old path of confrontation, and we will not bow to pressure.”

Over the past 30 years, both sides of the Taiwan Strait have witnessed rapid globalization and enjoyed its benefits together.

Over the past 30 years, development on both sides of the strait and mutual cooperation have allowed Taiwan to become a model for newly industrialized countries and a core global supplier of information and communications products. Those factors have also facilitated mainland China's rapid rise. These changes have given both sides of the strait more important roles and greater influence in the international community.

At this point in the globalization process, failure to move ahead means being left behind. More than ever, the fate of all countries and their people's well-being are tied to regional development and security.

As key stakeholders who play a vital role in the international and regional communities, both sides of the strait should adopt new ways of thinking. Both sides, through their individual and cooperative efforts, should contribute to regional peace and prosperity, globalization's continuous advance and improvement, and a bright future of mutual prosperity.

Over the past 30 years, people on both sides of the strait have witnessed a new chapter in peaceful development. Looking to the future, we should cherish the decision to relax restrictions on cross-strait family visits thirty years ago, and the subsequent historic changes and achievements. Building on that foundation, both sides should collaborate to think about and plan a vision for the next 30 years of cross-strait relations.

The ruling party in mainland China recently concluded its National Congress, and its governance has entered a new stage. On May 20 last year I appealed to the governing parties on both sides of the strait to set aside the baggage of history, and engage in positive dialogue for the benefit of the people on both sides.

The present presents an opportunity for change. So once again, I am appealing to the leaders on both sides of the strait to embrace the harmony and moderation of traditional political wisdom, and seek a breakthrough in cross-strait relations to create long-term well-being for people on both sides, and eliminate hostility and the fear of war.

And finally, I want to thank our many predecessors for their contributions and efforts to promote cross-strait exchanges. Those of you here today are leading scholars and experts in cross-strait exchanges, and witnesses to their historic development. I hope you will all contribute your wisdom, and work together to open a new era in peaceful cross-strait development.

In closing, let me offer best wishes for a successful symposium. Thank you!

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