Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen in a video statement at a U.S. think tank event in Washington on Wednesday touted the strength of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship amid a growing threat from China.
“As effective our military is, we cannot stand alone without support from the community of like-minded democracies. I am proud that the relationship between Taiwan and the U.S. has never been closer,” Tsai said in her statement at the Hudson Institute.
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“Across the board, we share a high degree of mutual trust and a common strategic picture of how we can work together to protect and preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific,” she added.
Both Taiwan and the U.S. are concerned by growing China’s growing aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. opposes what it considers excessive Chinese territorial claims in international waters important for global trade as well as China’s increasing bullying of its neighbors — many of whom are U.S. allies.
China considers Taiwan a part of its territory, instead of a separate country, despite its more than 50 years of self-governance and its status as a robust democracy today. China has threatened to retake the island, including by military force, by 2049.
Amb. Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s new representative to the U.S., noted at the event that there are “recent trends of a more belligerent and aggressive” Chinese military in the region.
“China seems to have less regard for the public opinion and norms of the international community. With daily intrusions into Taiwan’s [air defense identification zone], as well as lately crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait, there’s an increasing risk of miscalculation and accidents,” Hsiao added.
“So, close coordination with the United States and allies in the region is needed [to forge] a joint threat picture and response to acts that upset the status quo in the Indo-Pacific region,” she added.
Tsai called for “peace, parity, democracy, and dialogue” with China.
“We will always be willing to work together in the interest of peaceful coexistence and to prevent a downward trend in cross-strait relations,” she said. “And we will never stop believing that there can be a better future ahead where both sides can share in each other’s successes and accomplishments.”
However, she added, “We must also be realistic and take stock of our differences. Taiwan has become a full-fledged democracy. Our 23 million people have the right to determine our own futures, which is antithesis to the position Beijing has taken.”
She said upholding Taiwanese democracy meant being able to defend Taiwan against “coercive actions” and that Taiwan has just unveiled its “largest ever defend budget, reaching 2.3% of our GDP.”
Tsai said she would continue cooperation with the U.S. and establish a constructive security relationship built on shared interests in the region. “Through more frank and robust policy level dialogue, we want to forge greater consensus on ways we can preserve peace across the Taiwan Strait,” she said.
She also said she would focus on beginning negotiations towards a U.S.-Taiwan free trade agreement, noting that the coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of economic linkages and supply chain security for both Taiwan and the U.S.
She spoke out against China taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to crack down on democracy in Hong Kong.
“When the rest of the world has been distracted in responding to one of the most significant crises in recent history, we’re seeing a growing effort to pose ever more challenging threats to free and democratic societies,” she said.
“Nowhere is this more apparent than in Hong Kong … We are the only two Chinese speaking societies around the world that commemorate June the fourth and its profound significance for freedom and democracy,” she said in reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.
“We also see the international community as having an obligation to speak out and act against the demise of Hong Kong’s freedoms. I applaud the actions that the U.K., the U.S., and many other democracies have taken and call on more like-minded countries to do the same,” she said.
“Taiwan stands on the front lines in the defense of democratic values. The gravity of the threat we face signifies the difficulty of the task before us, but by standing as one, as a community of like-minded democracies, I am confident we will rise to successfully meet the challenge,” she said.