Taiwan and Asia’s Democracy

World Affairs Council


Honorable Governor Murkowski, Friends from the World Affairs Council,

  Greetings! I am honored and delighted to visit Alaska, the first stop of a private visit to the United States that I had long looked forward to. Most people know Alaska as the northernmost and coldest state of the U.S.A. But, to your Taiwan friends, Alaska is the warmest state, nearest in distance, truly friendly to Taiwan and supportive of Taiwan’s democracy.

  Governor Murkowski is one of our best friends and a staunch supporter of our democracy. I believe that one cannot find another American governor who, within one month, has hosted a current and a former president of Taiwan, the only two directly presidents in Chinese societies around the world. On behalf of the Taiwan people, I would like to express our sincere appreciation to the Governor for his warm friendship and longtime support. Alaska may be located in Asia, but she is one of its few paradises of freedom and democracy. Taiwan people are fortunate to be like our Alaskan friends, able to enjoy the democratic system and its values. However, Taiwan underwent a long and difficult path of reform to establish such democratic system and values. Even today, we still face challenges, oppression and annexation threats from non-democratic, despotic China. From another point of view, however, that China would feel so uneasy about Taiwan’s democracy is because Taiwan’s democracy represents a beacon of hope for democracy in China, in other Chinese societies and even, in all of Asia.

  The most important significance of democracy to most Asian countries and people lies in its emancipation from traditional thought and culture, especially strong Chinese traditions of paternalism and unity, which has low tolerance for diversity and suppresses government dissent and other ideologies. This describes the situation that Taiwan faced before lifting martial law. However, during my administration, after paving the road to democracy, our first goal was to let Taiwan people walk out from the shadows of “white terror”, freely express their opinions toward their government and their future, and even, bravely pursue their political ideals and system. This is also why after the last twenty years of being their own masters, Taiwan people are able to gradually leave behind the darkness of the Japanese colonial period, work out their relations with China, develop their own national identity, redefine Taiwan based on Taiwan as the priority, and determine Taiwan’s relations with Asia and the world. It is also such emancipation of thinking and the courage to pursue their ideals that has stimulated Taiwan’s economy and creativity to flourish and modernize.

  For most Asian leaders and government, -how to walk out from the maze of authoritarian dictatorship toward democracy and returning political power to the people, rather than having political power monopolized by political elite or the minority ruling class-is most important. Implementing my administration’s goals of leading the people out of martial law, establishing a normal democratic system, and returning sovereignty to the people make up the second phase of Taiwan democratization. This is why I abolished the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion-to restore a normal Constitution with all its functions, to make the Constitution suitable for the 23 million people of Taiwan, to let the people elect their representatives and to let the people vote directly for their own president. As I mentioned before, these actions are quite difficult for a leader from a paternalistic culture to take, however, believing that the people will duly make their choices and returning power to the people are the keys to democracy. Certainly, there is another important factor for Taiwan’s democratization, that is, the support of the international community, especially the support of the United States. I still remember 1996, when China fired missiles to threaten Taiwan and to display their opposition to our direct presidential election. The same scenario occurred in 2000, while Chen Shui Bian was running for President. However, because the U.S. and world community clearly supported Taiwan’s democratization and its people’s right to pursue democratic rights and conviction to be their own masters, China had no other course but to exercise self-control. Ladies and Gentlemen, let us consider the following. One motive for China’s willingness to use military force against Taiwan is to rely on military power and the trumped up Chinese unification to conceal the unreasonableness and shortcomings of China’s despotic authoritarian system that are exposed by Taiwan’s democratization. I believe that the biggest threat to the Chinese regime comes not from Taiwan people deciding their own future, but from the challenges of China’s democratization and the return of sovereignty to her people, which will question the reasonableness and legitimacy of the existence of a authoritarian communist system.

  Through United States promotion of democracy around the world, we see a gradual budding of the flower of democracy in Afghanistan in Central Asia and in Iraq in the Middle East. However, we have yet to see such a trend in the most populous country in East Asia, China, which did not even address this issue during the just concluded 16th National Party Congress. Nor do we hear any loud urgent calls from the United States or the world community in this regard. Rather we see the concern of the international community toward the pursuit of freedom and democracy in China being drowned by the allure of the China market and the rise of its military.

  Just like Alaska being on the front line of defense of the United States in Asia, Taiwan is also on the front line of defense against Chinese authoritarianism. Taiwan’s democracy and existence has meaningful significance for the future of democracy in China and Asia. Securing Taiwan against threats and annexation by despotic China and allowing Taiwan’s democracy to deepen and strengthen will have indicative significance for the Chinese people and Asian democracy. For America, the existence of democratic Taiwan represents the expansion of democracy in the Asia Pacific region and a cornerstone of American security and interests in this region.

  Ladies and Gentlemen, the basic values of democracy and freedom often serve as the basis for economic and security alliances. One of the reasons for the close friendship between Alaska and Taiwan, or between the United States and Taiwan, is our mutual agreement on the values of democracy and freedom. The creation of a democratic system and alliance in Asia Pacific is the true basis for regional peace. This is what I personally hope for and what I hope for of my American friends. Thank you.