Tsai Ing-wen tells ASPI China’s Hong Kong security laws challenge Taiwan
27 Aug 2020|

Taiwan’s president has signalled that China’s imposition of tough new national security laws on Hong Kong is one of the most serious challenges facing her people.

In an address to ASPI’s Indo-Pacific Leaders Dialogue, President Tsai Ing-wen said Beijing’s view of ‘one country, two systems’ was not acceptable to the people of Taiwan, especially in light of the developments they’d witnessed in Hong Kong.

‘We are a country with a very vibrant democracy, and the PRC has no jurisdiction over Taiwan. Our citizens enjoy full political rights, and we reject any attempts to downgrade Taiwan.’

Tsai said Taiwan was committed to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. ‘I’m sure that this has not gone unnoticed by the international community’, she said.

Asked if Taiwan was pursuing independence from mainland China, or if reunification was possible, Tsai replied, ‘Taiwan is Taiwan. Our existence simply cannot be questioned. We have our own government, we have free elections, and our people can choose their own leaders. We have our own military and own democratic institutions, none of which have ever been under Beijing’s jurisdiction.’

She said Taiwan’s future would be decided by its people.

Answering questions posed by ASPI in an online interview, Tsai said Taiwan was open to discussions with China, as long as it contributed to a beneficial relationship. ‘And it is important that such discussions are based on the four principles: that is, peace, parity, democracy and dialogue. Peace means we will seek peace with Beijing without the use of force to settle our differences.’

Neither country must deny the other’s existence and Beijing must recognise Taiwan as a democracy whose future would be decided by its own people. ‘And dialogue means we will not refrain from discussions with Beijing that are not based on political preconditions. Taiwan is willing to promote cross-strait interactions if these pillars are upheld.’

In an apparent reference to Australia’s defence strategic update, Tsai said Australia had adjusted its own regional strategy to reflect the pace of change in the region and had become more proactive in its national defence. ‘We are deeply impressed by Australia’s rapid actions, taken to protect not only itself but the region.’

It was important for Taiwan, too, she said, to strengthen its defence capabilities. ‘We do this because we know that in terms of our current situation, strength can be correlated with deterrence. It also reduces the risk of military adventurism. To this end, my government has made quite serious commitments to increasing our defence budget, updating our defence strategies, including the overall defence concept, and ensuring that our men and women in uniform are better equipped and trained.’

Tsai said it was important for Taiwan to strengthen its links with like-minded countries. ‘This is a situation that requires collective efforts, as well as recognition that Taiwan is on the front lines of democracy in the world. We will continue to seek a stronger security partnership with the United States and other like-minded countries in the region, built on our shared values and common interests.’

Asked what were the risks of conflict and what Taiwan would expect of Australia in managing them, Tsai said those risks required careful management by all parties. ‘We expect and hope that Beijing will continue to exercise restraint, consistent with their obligations as a major regional power. Furthermore, the international community has closely followed the situation in Hong Kong, as well as China’s militarisation of the South China Sea. As a result, there is now greater scrutiny over the situation in the Taiwan Strait.’

There continued to be significant concerns over the potential for accidents, given increased military activity in the region. ‘Therefore, we believe it would be important for all parties to maintain open lines of communications to prevent misinterpretations or miscalculations’, the president said.

‘We are grateful for Australia’s advocacy for Taiwan’s international space, including participation in the World Health Assembly. As the current pandemic exemplifies, it is important for all countries to be fully represented on the international stage, especially when it comes to health and public safety.’

Tsai said she hoped Australia would continue to recognise the importance of Taiwan’s security in terms of the broader Indo-Pacific region. ‘After Hong Kong, Taiwan stands increasingly on the front lines of freedom and democracy. We certainly hope that like-minded countries will continue to work together to ensure Taiwan’s security, which is in the interests of peace and stability in the region.’

Both public and private institutions in Taiwan and Australia have been experiencing large-scale, systematic hacking and cyberattacks in recent years, and the Taiwanese government has dedicated itself to the development of an information and communication security industry and safety net. ‘We hope to invoke Taiwan’s experience, our expertise and technology to assist countries in the Indo-Pacific region, especially Pacific island nations, to advance their cybersecurity.

‘I must again commend the Australian government for its leading effort in this area. Australia’s Cyber Bootcamp Project and Pacific Cyber Security Operational Network are all impressive examples of Australia’s leadership that would ultimately improve information and communication security in the Pacific.’

Taiwan is setting up digital opportunity centres for its allies in the Pacific. ‘We are helping our diplomatic allies train technological experts and improve their cyber environment.’

The president said she hoped negotiations could begin very soon on an economic agreement between Taiwan and Australia.

Taiwan’s inclusion in the Japanese-led Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership would also benefit Australia as a member country, Tsai said.

‘In Taiwan, we strongly support the people of Hong Kong’s quest for democracy, freedom and human rights, and we commend our democratic allies, such as Australia, the US, UK and Canada for taking action to support Hong Kong and safeguard democracy.

‘We are also paying close attention to the potential hotspots of conflict in the East and South China Seas. We call on the international community to be vigilant and work together, in accordance with international law, to resolve any issue or conflict peacefully.’

As democratic allies, Taiwan and Australia found ways to help each other during the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘In March, as we dealt with a shortage of materials for epidemic prevention, Australia graciously offered Taiwan one million litres of alcohol to make more than four million bottles of 75%-alcohol sanitiser, while, in exchange, Taiwan provided three metric tons of non-woven fabric, the key raw material for surgical mask production.’

Medical research teams from Taiwan’s Chang Gung University and Australia’s Monash University were working together to develop a treatment for Covid-19 and had achieved positive results.

‘I firmly believe, it is through this kind of cooperation, transparency in communication and information sharing, that we can finally get past this dangerous pandemic.’

On the economic front, the pandemic had accelerated restructuring of supply chains. ‘One positive aspect of this effect is it allows us to re-examine and reassess economic and trade cooperation. Taiwan and Australia had found an increased number of issues and opportunities in education, tourism, trade, culture, science and security to collaborate in, to their mutual benefit.

‘Australia’s prominence in the supply of agricultural products and the significant value of Taiwan’s high-tech exports epitomises the complementary nature of the trade relationship between our two countries’, Tsai said.

Australia is now Taiwan’s second largest provider of natural gas and Australian firms are also playing a crucial role helping Taiwan establish more offshore wind farms to provide it with green energy.

President Tsai said the people of Taiwan were proud of their democracy and were encouraged by Australia’s dedication to stand with, safeguard and promote democratic values and ideals.