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President Tsai attends dinner banquet with Taiwanese expatriates in Houston, Texas


President Tsai issues remarks after returning from state visits to Paraguay and Belize

Good evening Houston! I remember when I was here as a presidential candidate in 2015. We only had a four-hour stopover, but even then, at an elementary school near the airport, I could feel your enthusiasm and support. And so, as president, I've made my transits here a matter of priority. Thank you all for welcoming me so warmly.

Now before I begin my remarks to the Taiwanese-American community, I want to acknowledge some very special visitors and say a few words in English.

We have two members of Congress with us tonight. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Congressman Al Green. They have been key pillars of support for Taiwan in the U.S. Congress. They have worked tirelessly to advocate for Taiwan's international participation and encourage stronger Taiwan-U.S. ties. Can we give them a big round of applause?

I also want to recognize State Representative Alma Allen, Louisiana Secretary of Economic Development Don Pierson, Mayor of Sugar Land Zoe Zimmerman and his wife Nancy, as well as many of the other dignitaries and city council members gathered here. Of course, I want to acknowledge another special guest, and many of you may know him well. He's someone who needs no introduction, but I still want to introduce and mention him because he is such a good friend of ours – Chairman Jim Moriarty at the AIT. Thank you all for coming.

Tonight, at this gathering for the Taiwanese-American community, I already feel a little closer to home. In this dinner of 1,000 people – the largest banquet we have ever held in Houston – we see a little bit of Taiwan, and a little bit of America. We see the ties of kinship and friendship that have brought our two countries together. We see the commercial linkages that have made Taiwan one of America's largest trading partners. And we see the shared values and sense of purpose that intertwine the fates of our two countries.

Indeed, during this trip, a young woman asked me a question in Los Angeles: What does it mean to be Taiwanese-American? I have thought about this quite a lot during my trip.

While there is no right or wrong answer to questions of self-identity, what I want to say is this: To be a Taiwanese-American is to be proud of your heritage and culture. It is to take the best of both countries: the perseverance of being a Taiwanese, and the ambitiousness of the American dream. It is to have the willingness to stand up for the common values of both our countries – democracy, freedom, and the belief in human dignity – as a matter of principle and pride.

Indeed, the closeness of our values is one of the reasons why Taiwanese-Americans have prospered across the United States. This is why, for example, Taiwanese-Americans have been so active in their communities and in support of politicians that share their ideals, like those of you seated with us today. And this is why Taiwanese-Americans have been so quick and willing to combat the growing voices of authoritarianism. They do so not only outside this hotel today, but around the world.

Taiwan and the United States have a shared commitment to freedom and democracy at a time of monumental change around the world. This relationship is standing stronger than ever. Examples of this range from the Trump administration's first arms sale to Taiwan to, thanks to our friends in Congress, the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act. It is demonstrated by the opening of the new AIT compound in June, and by the way our two countries cooperate in promoting public health, pushing for gender equality, and fighting transnational crime.

I know that through your efforts this relationship will remain strong. Even as Taiwan, and our citizens and private enterprises, face growing threats to our freedom of expression and way of life, we know that Taiwan-U.S. relations will continue to be that one bright spot we look towards. Thank you for keeping this light alive. And thank you all for coming today. I will now continue my remarks in Taiwanese and Mandarin if you don't mind.

Following are translations of the portions of President Tsai's speech delivered in Mandarin and Taiwanese:

My Secretary-General Chen Chu (陳菊); National Security Council Secretary-General David T. Lee (李大維); Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮); Legislators; Compatriots from the Houston area; Friends: Good evening!

When I was on my transit stop in Houston in January last year, it was a really cold day, so I thought that not many people would show up to greet me. But when I got out of the car, the front of the hotel was packed with Taiwanese.

Then, I shook their hands, one after another. The more hands I touched, the more I was moved. Although everyone's hands were cold, I could feel their passion and enthusiasm for Taiwan. Although it was a cold day, I was so touched that my heart was just glowing.

I'm wondering if some of you here tonight might also have been on hand at last year's banquet. Would you please raise your hand, so that I can thank you once again? I am truly grateful.

So a year and a half later, I'm back in Houston. Although the weather is really hot this time, what remains the same is how I feel after shaking your hands. People in Houston really do have a strong grip! I'm sure it's your way of giving me encouragement. Thank you very much for the encouragement.

During my transit stop in Los Angeles, I talked about reforms and development, and gave the expatriate there a detailed update on my administration's achievements for Taiwan over the past two-plus years. Many people were quite touched by what they heard. It was the first time they had heard about many of Taiwan's achievements and ongoing transformations.

So during this trip, I had Secretary-General Chen stay in the United States. She visited many places to share with Taiwanese expatriates in person about progress in Taiwan. I really appreciate her efforts, so let's have a big round of applause for the Secretary-General.

Our expatriates living abroad have to rely on media and the Internet to stay updated on Taiwan. Today, let me share with you face-to-face about what the government has completed and what reforms we have accomplished. In short, the information you're getting today is first-hand.

When I came to Houston in January last year, my administration had just took office less than one year. Reforms involve complex issues, and many tasks were just getting started, or were only at the halfway point. So a lot of people were concerned that maybe things were changing too slowly. They were very anxious and felt that our administration was not meeting their expectation regarding the pace of reform. But I told everyone that if we move ahead steadily, we'll definitely see results. Now, over two years have passed, and we're seeing the results of our reform and development policies.

The government is doing everything it can to improve the economy so as to help transform Taiwan's economy. And over the past two years, many economic indicators have moved toward a positive direction. The indicators—including the economic growth rate, exports, and stock market indexes—all fared well, making the best performance over the past decade. And those results also compare favorably with other countries.

As Secretary-General Chen just mentioned, TSMC and Winbond have been increasing their investments in Taiwan. Multinationals like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, IBM, and CISCO have all chosen to invest in Taiwan, or to expand their Taiwan development plans. A lot of green energy firms came to Taiwan, especially to Changhua County, which has some of the best wind fields in the world. So, since we chose Changhua County to develop offshore wind power, many international green energy firms also chose Taiwan and generated investments with an estimated worth of NT$1 trillion in Changhua County's green energy and offshore wind power industries.

It's significant that so many domestic and foreign firms have decided to invest in Taiwan. It shows that Taiwan is making progress with a promising future awaiting ahead. Isn't that right? I can tell you: The answer is yes.

But at a time when all the economic indicators are moving toward a positive direction, we need to be aware of an important problem facing Taiwan. There has been an increasing uncertainty shared by our young people, particularly about their future. I'm particularly referring to the problem of low wages facing our young people. So, with our economy on the mend, our government has taken the lead in raising wages, and is encouraging private-sector firms to follow suit. We're also going to raise the minimum wage. Starting next January, the monthly minimum wage will rise from NT$22,000 to NT$23,100.

For all of you here, I'm sure the term "22K" has a very familiar ring. For quite a long time, "22K" was an unbreakable ceiling, but I'm telling you that 22K has become a floor. Indeed, the monthly minimum wage will soon exceed 22K. We've been in office for almost three years, and each year we've increased the minimum wage to today's NT$23,100 per month.

But many asked whether the economy can withstand such minimum wage hike. I'm here to assure you that it can, because after two years of effort, today's economy is healthy and moving towards the right direction. Based on assessments by the Central Bank and the National Development Council, we concluded that in a healthy economy, it is appropriate to raise the minimum wage by 5% this year.

We also hope that the minimum wage hike will help resolve the low wage problem. We're going to raise the minimum hourly wage to NT$150, an increase of over 7%. That will be an important wage increase for many people who work part-time, especially for the younger generation.

Many reforms have to be approached one step at a time, making steady progress. And raising the minimum wage is the best example. As long as the direction is right, and there's a firm hand at the wheel, success is certain. Today, the "22k" minimum wage is a thing of the past, and the government's efforts to make that change were not in vain.

Apart from improving our economy, we also have to implement social reforms. Taiwan needs a long-term care system and a childcare system, so we're moving ahead one step at a time to set these up. One of the best systems in Taiwan is the national health insurance. And now we're expanding upon it with our Long-term Care 2.0 Plan. Once our long-term care system is up and running, the people of Taiwan will enjoy more comprehensive care.

When our fellow countrymen engage with people from other countries, they proudly tell them that Taiwan has a comprehensive health insurance system that cares for our health. In their future engagement with foreigners, they can further share with them our Long-Term Care 2.0. Under this new system, when we age or when we begin to lose our physical or mental capacity, our wellbeing will be well taken care of by the government. And we can proudly say that it is wonderful to be Taiwanese.

Another problem facing Taiwan is high housing prices. Many young people cannot afford to live in urban areas. They can't afford to buy a house. So we have been building social housing units, and we expect to have 47,000 units either completed or under construction by 2020. By 2024 we will have 200,000 social housing units, of which 120,000 will be built completely from scratch. And the remaining 80,000 units will come from existing empty housing units and will be managed and sublet by the government. It will create a marketplace in which the government subsidizes the rent so that young people can pay less to rent property in good quality and handy locations.

In a recent public opinion poll, people were asked what government policy they were most satisfied with. So far, our long-term care policy naturally got a lot of mentions, as did our tax reform. Our tax reform has fundamentally changed our tax structure. Most importantly, it reduced the tax burden for people with low and medium income.

For example, anyone with monthly wages of NT$30,000 or less, or annual wages of NT$400,000 or less, will not have to pay taxes from next year forward. The same applies to any household of four (a double-income household with two children aged five or younger) with annual income of NT$1.23 million or less. So, to the people of Taiwan, this government really does care for the needs of people who don't have enough income and thus are in need of help. We provide them with a lot of government support on matters such as long-term care, health insurance, housing, and income. It is clear to the people of Taiwan that this is a government that takes care of its people.

Apart from social reforms undertaken to improve the social safety net, we've also carried forward a lot of political reforms. Many of our partners in political reform are with us here this evening. I'm referring to the legislators joining our delegation, including Lee Chun-Yi (李俊俋) of Chiayi City, Hsiao Bi-Khim (蕭美琴) of Hualien County, Tsai Shih-Ying (蔡適應) of Keelung City, and Lai Jui-Lung (賴瑞隆) of Kaohsiung City, as well as Chou Chun-Mi (周春米), who is an at-large legislator. And of course there is also Legislator Chen Yi-Chieh (陳怡潔)—she's not a member of my party, but, regardless of her party affiliation, she has working closely with us to promote Taiwan's diplomacy.

They have pushed forward a lot of legislative amendments at the Legislative Yuan. They've launched the Parliament Broadcast Video on Demand System, which has driven a lot of interests. It's very important for Taiwan's democracy, because it makes the legislature more transparent. Many of our diplomatic allies like this system very much. They asked us to help them install the system so that their citizens can also watch the legislative procedures of their legislative bodies.

In addition, the government has passed a bill promoting transitional justice, lowered the referendum threshold, and legislated an act governing ill-gotten party assets. So the upcoming year-end elections will be the first elections in Taiwan untainted by party assets. These reforms all represent great progress for Taiwan's democracy. Isn't that right?

Taiwan is changing, and changing for the better. As president, I am guiding this process as determined and confident as ever, and will continue to lead my team to transform Taiwan. So all Taiwanese living abroad, please have faith in us, and work with the government to fight for Taiwan. Thank you.

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