By Caribbean News Global
TAIPEI, Taiwan –On the morning of January 1, president Tsai Ing-wen delivered her 2024 New Year’s address and took questions from the media.
Asked about her feelings on her last New Year’s address as president and what she hoped to achieve during her remaining time in office. President Tsai said that she felt more relaxed this time, but felt even more grateful. The president also thanked her fellow citizens for overcoming many challenges over these eight years and for placing Taiwan on the world stage. Being president of the Republic of China has been her greatest honour. While there is much she still hopes to do during her time in office, the president said that after the upcoming election, the most important thing is that the ruling and opposition parties set aside their passions and work together to unite the country.
President Tsai was asked about her thoughts on Chinese president Xi Jinping’s comment in his New Year’s address that “the unification of the two sides of the strait is a historical inevitability,” and on there being two candidates in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election who say they will stay on the “Tsai Ing-wen path” if elected.
In response, the president said that in the development of cross-strait relations, the most important thing is to abide by democratic principles and make decisions based on the collective will of the Taiwanese people. As this is a democratic country, she said, the kind of relationship we form with China going forward must be decided by our democratic processes. In this regard, she noted, we must ensure the quality of our democracy and continue to cultivate a democratic ethos among our people as well as a deeper understanding of the circumstances facing our country.
President Tsai stated that it is not appropriate to discuss the election at the Presidential Office. She also said that the “Tsai Ing-wen path” does not refer to an individual but to something developed and implemented by a team of people. This path, she added, is about stability, engendering trust, and global engagement. Going forward, she said, Taiwan will either continue to engage or begin to disengage with the rest of the world, and that she believes on January 13 the people of Taiwan will make the right decision in this regard.
President Tsai was asked if national security agencies had prior knowledge of attempts to interfere in Taiwan’s elections, such as China pressuring the Taiwanese band Mayday into saying Taiwan is part of China, village chiefs accepting subsidized travel to China, or fake public opinion polls.
The president stated that since Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996, China’s election interference has been commonplace and that our national security agencies are on top of the situation.
President Tsai added that it is not only Taiwan that faces election interference, noting that last year similar cognitive manipulation was used in Korea’s presidential election, but the Korean people decided not to be swayed by these methods. The president said she believes that the people of Taiwan will also make a wise decision in our election. Most important, she said, is that here everyone can freely express themselves because this is democratic Taiwan, but she also hopes Taiwanese society can be vigilant in the face of election interference and disinformation.
The president was asked about her view on the fifth anniversary of Chinese president Xi’s “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan,” in which he defined the “1992 consensus” as “one country, two systems” and said that there is support for the “1992 consensus” among Taiwanese society.
President Tsai said that while she cannot change all the political parties in Taiwan, she has, to a considerable extent, helped the Taiwanese people deepen their understanding and knowledge of global affairs and cross-strait relations.
The president then explained that the “1992 consensus” was only coined as such in 2000 and that this name was not used in 1992, while interpretations of the “1992 consensus” have also changed along with developments in cross-strait affairs. Today, she noted, the leader of China has determined that the “1992 consensus” means “the 1992 consensus of one China” and that China believes political negotiations should be conducted between the two sides of the strait to realize “one country, two systems” in Taiwan. As such, she said, the “1992 consensus,” “one China principle,” and “one country, two systems” constitute a three-pronged plan for Taiwan with accepting the “1992 consensus” as its starting point.
President Tsai said that if we blindly go along with the “1992 consensus,” Taiwan will be hemmed in by China’s definition of the “1992 consensus,” which would be a tremendous risk for the sovereignty of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Pointing out that some continue to tell the Taiwanese people the “1992 consensus” is a magic word that makes communication with China possible, the president said that communication is indeed important, but handing over our sovereignty in exchange for an opportunity to communicate would be a step too far.
Asked whether the cross-strait approach that the vice president referred to in a debate a few days prior was the same as the Tsai administration’s approach, and whether the president feels that the Constitution of the Republic of China is a disaster.
President Tsai stated that it is incumbent on the president of the Republic of China to handle cross-strait affairs in accordance with the Constitution, the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, and related laws and regulations. On that point, she said, she and the vice president concur, and that is what she has done over the past eight years.
The president pointed out that the Kuomintang’s (KMT) proposal to use the “1992 consensus” as the political foundation for negotiations and interaction with China and the Constitution of the Republic of China are two separate issues. She reiterated her previous statement, saying that the “1992 consensus” puts our national sovereignty at risk. Conflating discussion of the “1992 consensus” and the Constitution of the Republic of China risks subjecting the Constitution to the terms of the “1992 consensus,” she said, and that is truly cause for concern. Therefore, she said, the risk lies not in the Constitution of the Republic of China itself, but in connecting it with the “1992 consensus.”
Regarding the French media’s recent description of her performance as president as nearly perfect yet not widely known, President Tsai responded that she often says that she is not perfect and that she does make mistakes, but most importantly, we will reflect and make timely adjustments to respond to the will of the people. Noting that her own popularity, however, is unimportant and that Taiwan’s international visibility is the most important thing, the president said that the description by the French media, if it must be taken as a compliment, is actually a compliment not to her but to all the people of Taiwan. She added that since she and vice president Lai [Ching-te] have been part of this process together, she of course has confidence in him.
Regarding the suspension, beginning that day, of selected tariff reductions under ECFA, with some people thinking that China will end those suspensions before the president leaves office, the media asked whether China’s tariff reduction suspensions constitute interference in the upcoming election, and what effect that will have on the domestic economy.
President Tsai said that Taiwan’s industry is already dealing directly with the world and gradually breaking away from the old path of engaging with China before engaging with the world. We have always welcomed healthy and orderly cross-strait interaction, but economic and trade dealings cannot become political tools, nor can commercial mechanisms be used as political threats.
The president said we have also seen that China often unilaterally erects trade barriers against various countries around the world based on political factors. Some examples include China’s prohibition of rum imports from Lithuania after Taiwan and Lithuania established a friendship and China’s imposition of punitive tariffs on Australian wine following Australia’s criticism of China’s infringements on human rights in Xinjiang. Noting that Taiwan and China are both members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the president said that if there are trade disputes, they should be negotiated through existing mechanisms.
The president emphasized that we anticipated China’s actions early on and helped the industry make the best possible preparations. The president pointed out that given ECFA’s current scope, its economic effects are limited, but in the future, Taiwan’s industry must still pursue risk diversification and global expansion. That is the correct path, she said, instead of returning to the path of dependence on China, especially since China’s unstable market entails unpredictable risks.
Regarding international media assertions that Taiwan’s presidential election is the most important election in Asia this year, and her view on the post-election regional situation and China’s possible course of action.
President Tsai said that for China and the world at large, the best choice is to respect the Republic of China’s democratic constitutional system and the choices made by the people of Taiwan. Our national security team will assess and prepare for all contingencies, emphasizing, however, that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait share the responsibility for continuing to maintain the status quo of peace and stability.
On the opposition party’s assertion that having a nuclear-free homeland by 2025 is the wrong energy policy, and that promoting green energy industries has led to numerous corruption scandals.
The president responded by saying that Taiwan’s greatest energy deficit occurred in May 2016 when she had just assumed office, when the operating reserve was as low as 1.64 percent. If we look over the past year, she said, we see that the operating reserve has never been below six percent and continues to hold steady between six and 10 percent. Beginning in 2022, she noted, Taiwan’s total generating capacity for green energy has even exceeded nuclear energy.
The president pointed out that the opposition parties call for the development of nuclear energy but have not said where any new nuclear power plants should be built, or how nuclear waste should be handled. If new nuclear technology were to be developed that would ensure nuclear safety and resolve problems with the handling of nuclear waste, and were there sufficient social consensus in support of nuclear energy, she said, then perhaps we could adopt a more positive attitude toward nuclear energy, but those conditions do not currently exist.
The Taiwanese society should therefore not waste any more time over the nuclear energy controversy right now, but should choose among various non-nuclear options and move swiftly forward.
In particular, as we face the challenges of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and integrating renewable energy into global supply chains under the RE100 initiative, we are doing everything possible to accelerate the development of renewable energy and to align with the consensus reached at COP28, which calls for a tripling of renewable energy capacity and doubling of energy efficiency improvements by 2030. She added that this is the only way we can ensure that Taiwanese industry will remain internationally competitive.
President Tsai position on corruption is very simple: She does not tolerate troublemakers or ethical misconduct within government ranks.
Investigations are carried out when needed, and punitive actions are taken accordingly. That is why, the Japanese academic Ogasawara Yoshiyuki recently noted that among all administrations in Taiwan up to now, the Tsai administration is the only one without exposed cases of high-level officials involved in corruption. Taiwan saw its best performance in 27 years in last year’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
About how to resolve public disagreement over the question of whether to abolish capital punishment.
President Tsai stated that Taiwan has not abolished capital punishment, and in all legal cases where a person has been sentenced to death, the cases of those convicted are still within constitutional interpretation procedures. Regardless of who is president, no one can go above the law because we are a nation that respects the rule of law. She mentioned that the issue of whether to abolish capital punishment has long been a subject of considerable discussion that involves emotions and rationality, values and ideals. Every time a major criminal case arises, she said, many people want to see the criminal receive punishment, and they want to see capital punishment used as a deterrence to the commission of serious crimes. This shows, that what the public wants most is for no crime to occur and for crimes to be prevented.
The government will continue working to establish a better system in at least four ways: First, to raise the credibility of the judicial system. Second, to strengthen law and order, and in particular that means doing a better job of bringing criminal gangs to book. Third, to increase the government’s capabilities and build a stronger social safety net. And fourth, to provide inmates with better psychological treatment. The president said that we are working hard on all these fronts, and where we fall short, we will continue redoubling our efforts.
Regarding opposition party criticisms that the ruling party has brought Taiwan to the brink of war. The president responded that the “Three Major Programs for Investing in Taiwan,” which she had mentioned earlier, have helped bring in total NT$2.1 trillion in investment from Taiwanese firms, while foreign investment has exceeded NT$2.4 trillion. The world’s investment in Taiwan means that Taiwan is safe and that people place confidence in its safety.
Offering an example, the president said that all of our homes have doors and locks, not for the purpose of provoking our neighbours but for our own safety, adding that this is the same for a country. Emphasizing that the people of Taiwan want peace, but specifically peace with dignity, the president said that dignity can only be defended with determination, and peace can only be ensured with strength. Peace with dignity, she said, means peace through democratic partners standing together, walking alongside Taiwan with the universal values of the rest of the world.
President Tsai was questioned on her stewardship over the past eight years, on the most crucial achievement or point of pride, and if there are any policies she would promote differently if given another opportunity.
The president responded that everything done for Taiwan in these eight years, regardless of scale, has been important for her … all things she should do as president, and that they are only about responsibility and not about anything like pride. Noting that it is a pity that some things were lacking in timeliness due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as making progress in social housing and accelerating the development of green energy, however, thanked the people of Taiwan for their understanding and tolerance, saying that the social communication could have been better on some issues, such as pension reform and marriage equality.
President Tsai summarized, repeating that she is not perfect, and saying that if we have not done something well, we must do it better; and if we have done something well, we must do even better.