Around noon on August 1, President Tsai Ing-wen delivered remarks in the Entrance Hall of the Presidential Office Building regarding China's decision to bar its citizens from independent travel in Taiwan, and its recent military exercises.
Commenting on China's ban on independent travel to Taiwan, President Tsai said that she already informed government officials during internal discussions a few months ago that government agencies must be prepared for such a possibility, mainly because Taiwan's overall economic stability and continued growth are the government's most important goals. She also directed them to closely monitor private consumption in the latter half of this year. Past experience has shown, she said, that as elections time nears, China restricts tourism to manipulate the political situation in Taiwan.
The president mentioned that the government has worked for the past few years to develop international tourism. The number of tourists has risen steadily, she said, with an all-time high of 11 million tourist arrivals last year, with Taiwan's reliance on tourists from China declining as other sources of international tourists grow more diverse and balanced. These trends help create a healthier overall industry structure, and bolster Taiwan's ability to resist political manipulation. The government therefore continues to propose programs to diversify and balance tourist sources, expand domestic demand, and increase tourist consumption. At the same time, the government will also help tourism industry firms—especially small and medium businesses—find ways to survive, thrive, and transform. That has always been our government's direction.
The president pointed out that by making this policy decision at this time, China is making a huge strategic error. She herself has seen many young people from China all across Taiwan. When they come here and travel around, they can experience first-hand Taiwan's culture and people, atmosphere of freedom, unrestricted access to the Internet, and a free and democratic lifestyle without social surveillance. The young people from China travelling in Taiwan seem to be energetic and enthusiastic, she said, and independent travel is the best way for them to get to know Taiwan, and makes cross-strait exchanges as natural and sincere as possible. But these young people have now been deprived of their right to travel to Taiwan, which is really sad.
Some observers, said the president, say the independent travel ban is a surgical strike where the Democratic Progressive Party is vulnerable. But in reality, that ban impacts all counties and cities no matter which party is in power, and all businesses regardless of political affiliation. She therefore declared to the Beijing authorities that China's use of tourists as a political tool only alienates Taiwanese. Tourism should not be politicized, she said, and politicized tourism will not develop stably.
President Tsai then addressed China's recent military activities and drills in the Taiwan Strait and the surrounding land, sea and air space. Whenever there's an election campaign in Taiwan, she noted, China ramps up its rhetorical and military bluster. Over the past few days China has conducted numerous, substantial military drills in the surrounding area, raising regional tensions. Just this morning, with tensions in Hong Kong running high, People's Liberation Army troops stationed in Hong Kong released videos showing military drills to intimidate Hong Kong residents.
The president further stated that the combination of China's military moves in the region and the Taiwan Strait that disrupt the sea and air space of neighboring states, and the expanding scope of its military drills, make trouble for other countries, escalate regional tensions, and exacerbate mistrust toward China in the international community. These moves are neither smart nor responsible.
The president also pointed out that, as an integral part of the region, Taiwan bears a certain responsibility for regional peace and stability. We are fully apprised of everything China is up to militarily, she said, and our armed forces are fully prepared and capable of defending our nation and our sovereignty.
The president then reminded everyone that Hong Kong's travails is clear for all to see. If we submit and bow to pressure, in the end, we will lose everything. While China's ban on independent travel aims to threaten Taiwan, young Chinese people who want to travel independently are really the victims. China's military threats are aimed at Taiwanese, but they also have negative repercussions on regional peace, stability, and security.