Since the new administration came to power last May, it has strived to enhance Taiwan-US relations. The US is Taiwan's most important ally and friend, and has a very special place in the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people.
Over the past year, Taiwan and the US have achieved concrete progress on a number of fronts, including trade, investment, tourism, cultural exchanges, and security cooperation. Taiwan is the ninth-largest trading partner of the US and directly or indirectly provides more than 320,000 job opportunities for the American people. We hope that by boosting our investment, trade, and procurement activities there, Taiwan will create even more American jobs in the future.
Last year we established a new route for direct flights from Taiwan to Chicago, and two-way tourist travel has topped one million for the first time, which stands as proof of the firm and lasting friendship that exists between our people. At the same time, the US Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to spur even closer cooperation between our countries, so that we may work together to maintain regional peace and stability. If it weren't for the unflagging support of the US government and friends from Congress, the achievements I just mentioned would never have come about, so I sincerely thank the US for its resolute friendship and support. As a friend and partner of the US, Taiwan will continue to work hand-in-hand with the US to advance the two countries' common interests and act upon our shared values. I am very happy to be in Houston once again. When I last visited here in June of 2015, I was traveling in my capacity as a presidential candidate, and had an extremely busy schedule. Although the stay was short, I strongly felt the sincere enthusiasm of the expatriate community in Houston. This time I'm here as president to cheer you on, and I want to thank the Houston city government. Even when I came as a presidential candidate in June 2015, they provided outstanding security arrangements. There were even armed guards stationed on the roof. All that, and I was only a presidential candidate, so I really am very thankful to the Houston city government. Now that I'm here as president, the security is all the more impressive. I just now counted 17 motorcycles up ahead of us in the motorcade. So why is the Houston city government treating us so well? The first reason is the friendly relationship between our two countries, but a second reason, I feel certain, is that Taiwanese people are very influential in Houston. I want to take this opportunity to thank our friends from Taiwan who've been working hard in Houston and the southern US over the years. When you have influence, you can help Taiwan be even more influential in the US and gain more support here.
Passing through Houston on my way to visit four countries in Central America has made it clear to me that Houston is very important, because you have to go through here to get to Central and South America. You can travel very conveniently from Houston to every country in Central and South America, so this is a place you really have to come to. Every time I come here I learn something new. There really are many different aspects to Houston.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner came to see me earlier today after I got off the airplane. I was very happy about that, because he also studied law. We talked about all sorts of things that no one else understood. He told me that Houston's most defining feature is its diversity – from the diverse backgrounds of Houstonians to the city’s diverse culture, and this makes for an atmosphere of tolerance. That's something that I have also felt. I was also very interested to learn that he is also pushing for pension reform. I thought to myself, "Oh, wow, someone else is doing the same thing as we are!" But from what he told me, it sounded like they're having a much easier time of it here. Maybe it's because their reforms are narrower in scope and impact. Also, their system isn't on the verge of bankruptcy. Maybe that's why they can go about it in a relatively calm manner.
I also went to a museum today, and among the things I saw was an exhibit called Emperors' Treasures, where they are showing items from the National Palace Museum in Taipei. I managed to spend some time appreciating the exhibit. I haven't been to the National Palace Museum in many years because it's always too crowded, and every time I've gone there have been lots of things I wasn't able to see. But when just a small portion of the National Palace Museum's collection is sent overseas, you just feel that each item is so precious. In particular, a member of our Legislative Yuan heard that a small teacup from the Ming Dynasty sold at auction in 2013 for US$36 million, so I asked myself: If a small teacup from the Ming Dynasty can sell for US$36 million, why do we need to reform our pension system?
Dear Friends, we do have to carry out pension reform, because we can't sell off our national treasures. There are many difficult problems that we simply must confront; we cannot take a path that appears to be easy, but that clashes with the values we cherish. What we want is a financially viable pension system, and a financially viable country. Pension reform is by no means political in-fighting; it's to put our pension system in better financial health. A lot of people say that the reforms will result in people receiving less, paying more, and retiring later, but everyone is forgetting that after the pension system has been reformed you'll be able to receive your pension, and receive it longer. That's what pension reform is about.
We do have a lot to do. Taiwan's economy has reached a crossroads. Actually, the task of economic transformation and restructuring ought to have been done 10 or 20 years ago, but progress has been very slow. Now, however, we plan to harness the power of innovation to promote economic transformation. In the future and in many different fields, we will combine the resources and power of the government and the private sector to revitalize the economy.
These fields include green energy, the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, the Internet of Things, smart machinery, the national defense industry, circular economy, and new agriculture—and many of them are connected with local industries here in Houston. I understand that petroleum is readily available in Texas, but green energy is also important.
The Taiwanese expatriates in Houston who are here today all appear to be highly experienced people with successful careers, so I hope that everyone can integrate the resources of Taiwan and the United States and organize human resources to form large and powerful R&D teams that will serve as excellent business partners. These are the things that I hope our expatriates in Houston, in Texas, and throughout the United States can join us in doing.
There's another thing that I'm busy working on, and something that the people of Taiwan are all concerned about, namely: What do you do when you grow old and there's no one to care for you? More and more Taiwanese people are becoming worried that there won't be anyone to care for them when they grow old, and increasing numbers of people are discovering that caring for elderly people in the family is a very heavy burden. In particular, more and more people are suffering from dementia, and it is quite difficult to care for people in this condition. A few days ago Taiwan passed an amendment regarding a system of one flexible day off and one fixed day off per week—in other words, the five-day work week. We don't want laborers to be overworked. We want them to be able to take a day off each week, while also having the option of working a day of overtime each week just like people can do in other sectors of the economy. A senior business leader saw that social service organizations need to solicit donations to fund care for senior citizens who suffer from dementia or disabilities, and learned that these organizations have complained that the system of one flexible day off and one fixed day off per week has spurred cost increases, thus exacerbating their difficulties. This business leader was so saddened he almost cried. He said this was cruel, and the media took it one step further by saying that this plan adopted by the government is very cruel. And I said to the business leader that, yes, when disabled elderly people have no one to care for them, that is indeed a cruel situation, but we cannot for that reason allow their caretakers to become overworked, because caring for these elderly people is a very difficult job. I myself once chose not to work, and to instead stay home to take care of my parents, and it was truly tough. There's a shortage of caretakers. We need to let caretakers get sufficient rest. And their pay should be kept at a certain level. So, we absolutely must provide a long-term care system that is well funded and has a proper organizational system, so that the elderly are well cared for and their caretakers can earn reasonable pay while getting sufficient rest. A responsible government must get these things done.
And the next question is, where do we find the money for this? It's very expensive, and we have to raise money to do it. The public often wants the government to do this or that, but then when the government seeks to levy taxes or raise fees, members of the public then turn around and ask: Why are you asking me for money every day? So, what we need to do at this point is to proceed on a trial basis with government funding, then after the public has come to appreciate the benefits they will be more willing to accept the use of fiscal measures to support long-term care. This is a big deal. If we do a good job of social care, our long-term care system will rank alongside national health insurance as yet another area where the entire world looks upon Taiwan with admiration. The elderly will have people to care for them, while caretakers will be supported by a social system that ensures sufficient rest and pay for them. This is something that we all need to work together on.
I feel like there are two types of people—those who want to return to Taiwan, and those who don't—but this has nothing to do with whether one loves Taiwan. I'm sure they all love Taiwan. For those who want to return, it is often because they have elderly parents that they need to care for. For those who don't want to return, it is often because their grandchildren are still young, and they need to care for grandchildren here. Whether one cares for the old or the young, it is a heavy burden, so I hope that Taiwanese society can make it so that we can go about our hard-working lives without undue worries. I hope we can create a good and sound system capable of providing care for the elderly and the young. Wages in Taiwan are not terribly high, and economic growth is slowing down, but if we can at least do a good job of social care, every citizen will be able to live free of worry, and we will be the envy of many. As for infrastructure, we are about to embark on the building of infrastructure that will propel economic development and meet the needs of the next generation, for the next 20 to 30 years. So at this crucial moment, I hope that our expatriate friends in Texas will consider coming back to Taiwan.
Once again, I want to thank all the expatriates in Houston and throughout Texas. Thank you for your enthusiasm. Thank you for your warmth. Thank you for your love for your homeland. When I got out of the car this morning my hands were warm. Then I started shaking hands with all the expatriates, and everyone's hands were icy cold, and eventually my hands became icy cold, too, but the feeling in my heart was one of great warmth. To see so many people willing to come out on Houston's coldest day in history, stand outside waiting for so long without uttering a complaint, just to give us a warm welcome, it made me feel that no matter how tough the job of president is, it is worth it.