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Tsai calls for global support for 'free Taiwan' at Columbia speech

2019/07/13 14:04

President Tsai Ing-wen delivers a speech at Columbia University July12 / photo from

New York, July 12 (CNA) President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) delivered a speech Friday at Columbia University during her closely watched visit to New York, calling for international support for a "free and democratic Taiwan" as the world faces growing threats from authoritarian forces.

Despite protest chants by Chinese groups outside the venue, Tsai gave the 16-minute speech without interruption at a closed-door event at Columbia University, where she also conversed with political science professor Andrew Nathan and took questions from the roughly 100 students in attendance.

pro-Beijing demonstrators in the background protest outside the Columbia University

The event took place on the next-to-last day of Tsai's visit to New York that will span three days before heading to the Caribbean for state visits to four of Taiwan's diplomatic allies. She will also stop in Denver on her way back to Taiwan.

"Today, a story of 'change' is exactly the story I am here to tell. It is the story of Taiwan. It is the story of how an island off the Chinese continent redefined the timeline for democratization, and set the standard for transitioning democracies around the world," Tsai said.

Over the years, Taiwan has successfully defied skeptics who once questioned the sustainability of the country's democracy in China's shadow, its economic potential and the likelihood of progressive values taking root in East Asia society, she said.

Left to right: Tsai, Columbia Professor Andrew Nathan and Jack Snyder

Today, Taiwan is home to a thriving democratic society and political system and is the U.S.'s 11th largest trading partner, Tsai said. Moreover, "I stand here before you as Taiwan's first woman president, and this year we became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage."

Despite what many called its "democratic miracle," Taiwan, like all the other democracies in the world, is facing new challenges and seeing its freedom under dire threat, Tsai said.

Citing the case of Hong Kong, where young people are taking to the streets to fight for democratic freedoms, Tsai said the region's experience under China's "one country, two systems" model goes to show that authoritarianism and democracy cannot coexist.

"Given the opportunity, authoritarianism will smother even the faintest flicker of democracy. The process may be gradual, so subtle that most don't even feel it," she said. "Before you know it, you feel some unseen force is monitoring your every move. You begin to censor your own speech, your own thoughts."

"That is why, now more than ever, Taiwan's story must be heard by the world," she said.

Tsai said Taiwan may be standing on the front lines of democracy against new threats unique to the information age, such as infiltration and cognitive warfare, that are challenges facing each country today regardless of their size.

Another challenge, she continued, comes in the form of economic enticement with hidden strings attached.

"Many countries around the world are being asked to choose between democracy and economic development, and it seems the right choice is becoming less clear by the day," Tsai said.

However, democracy and economic growth are not only mutually beneficial, they are also irrevocably intertwined, she said.

"We have been able to successfully adapt to the challenges of the U.S.-China trade war not despite our democracy, but rather, thanks to it," she argued, saying that Taiwan's democratic system makes it open to diverse ideas, giving it the flexibility to "break the mold when the mold no longer fits."

Tsai answers questions from reporters outside the Columbia University

That is why her government has tried to reduce the country' economic reliance on the Chinese market - which she argued has been exploited to infiltrate Taiwan's society and used as a bargaining chip - and instead opened a new path to economic development, the president said.

Calling for international support for a "free and democratic Taiwan," Tsai said her country's survival involves more than just cross-Taiwan Strait relations because it has been a vital bastion of democracy in the Indo-Pacific region.

"History tells us that democracies are strongest when united, and weakest when divided," she said. "Without Taiwan, the international coalition of like-minded countries will lose a crucial link in working to ensure our values are passed on to the next generation."

Prior to her remarks at Colombia University, Tsai gave a speech at the U.S.-Taiwan Business Summit in New York to talk about trade relations between the two countries, which was also attended by Nasdaq Chairman of the Board Michael Splinter and U.S.-Taiwan Business Council President Rupert Hammond-Chambers.

(By Stacy Hsu and Ozzy Yin)Enditem/ls