In an interview with Reuters on April 27, President Tsai Ing-wen spoke about Taiwan's longstanding friendship with the United States, her biggest achievements in office, and the state of cross-strait relations.
She also spoke about recent issues including Taiwan's participation in the WHA and the arrest of Taiwanese national Lee Ming-che (李明哲) in mainland China.
Asked about Taiwan's relationship with the U.S., President Tsai said: "We have long enjoyed a friendly relationship… We hope to strengthen this relationship by building on its existing foundations. This is particularly important during times of great change, when a strong and stable relationship between Taiwan and the US is required."
Speaking about her phone call with then President-elect Donald J. Trump, she said: "I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for the opportunity to speak over the phone." As for whether there may be further conversation with President Trump, President Tsai said "this would depend on the overall situation, as well as the U.S. government's considerations on regional affairs."
With President Tsai nearing her first year in office, she was also asked about her biggest accomplishments in office. She said "one of the differences between the current administration and previous administrations is that from the beginning, we made a very important political decision: we would handle the most difficult, politically risky, and politically costly issues right away."
"We believe that Taiwan has already fallen behind in the pace of reform. This has led to economic stagnation. We decided that we must begin as soon as possible. Since last year, we have started reforming our pension system, the economy, and the social safety net."
On cross-strait issues, President Tsai expressed her desire for mainland China to show perspective and flexibility. She said: "In my inauguration address, we adopted a more tolerant approach towards some of China's demands, ideas, and positions on Taiwan… I expressed the greatest possible goodwill from Taiwan. However, since then, we have not felt the same determination from the other side for cross-strait relations to move forward."
"In the past year, we have continued to abide by our pledge to maintain the status quo. We have not taken any provocative actions or caused any surprises. We have upheld our responsibility in maintaining peace and stability. Taiwan has not only contributed to peace and stability in cross-strait relations, but across the region as well."
"I want to use this opportunity to say that I hope mainland China will understand that the world is changing… I hope that Chairman Xi Jinping, as the leader of a major country, can show perspective and flexibility. I hope he will look at cross-strait relations from another angle. This would be a positive cross-strait development."
As for how President Tsai views relations with China going forward, she said: "If China shows flexibility and goodwill, I believe that the Taiwanese people will then think about how Taiwan can be more flexible. A relationship cannot be led by just one side. There has to be a process of engagement. If this relationship is to develop, there must be an accumulation of goodwill."
President Tsai also emphasized that whether or not Taiwan can participate in this year's WHA is a very important indicator of cross-strait relations. She said: "Many countries support Taiwan's participation and many have written to the WHA in hope that Taiwan can continue to participate. Taiwan's participation in the WHA is not only a desire of the Taiwanese people, but the international community as well."
"If China makes a decision to the contrary, this will have a major adverse impact on cross-strait relations, as the Taiwanese people will not understand why they have been prevented from participating in an expert and non-political event like the WHA."
She also emphasized that the arrest of Taiwanese national Lee Ming-che is important to the Taiwanese people. She said: "While this arrest may not be viewed as important in China, it is important to the Taiwanese people... We hope that mainland China is especially careful so that it does not become an obstacle in the development of cross-strait relations.
"If this issue is not properly dealt with by mainland China, the Taiwanese people will feel uneasy. This is because so many people travel across the strait every day. If they feel like their safety and human rights are not properly protected by the Chinese authorities, I think this could be very harmful to cross-strait relations."
In a final question about whether Taiwan would ask to procure F-35s, the President said: "In terms of military procurement, we determine this based on our strategic defense requirements. We will not exclude items, like the F-35, that are meaningful to our strategic needs."