The Struggle for Freedom: Remarks from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen
Guest Author

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen provides virtual remarks on advancing the cause of liberty at The Struggle for Freedom event in Dallas on Nov. 16, 2022.

Below is a full transcript of President Tsai Ing-wen’s remarks.

President Bush, Madam First Lady, distinguished speakers and guests. Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I would like to begin my talk by thanking the George W. Bush Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, and Freedom House for inviting me to speak at this important event on the threats freedom faces, and how we can advance liberty worldwide.

Just a couple of weeks ago, in recognition of the unprecedented challenge facing democracy and its advocates, Taiwan hosted the 11th Global Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy. With our partner, the National Endowment for Democracy, we welcomed more than 200 advocates of democracy, some of whom have devoted their lives to this work, and others who have recently started careers advancing this cause. These supporters of democracy make connections and strategized on how we all can work together better to make democracy stronger and more resilient.

At this Global Assembly, we had the special honor of welcoming parliamentarians and members of civil society from Ukraine. I had the pleasure of meeting them and of speaking to them in person. They came not only with stories of courage, but also with warnings. Though he was held back by the war, Chairman Oleksandr Merezhko of the Ukrainian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee still appeared online at the Assembly to share his assessment that, “The grand strategy of authoritarian regimes is to divide and destroy democracies one by one.” He also summed up the response that we must adopt, that is, “The rallying cry from all democracies must be one for all and all for one.”

In addition, this past August, Taiwan organized the Regional Religious Freedom Forum. Participants from across the Indo-Pacific shared their stories and advocacy experiences, and discussed how to secure the right to practice one’s faith at a time when religious freedom around the world is being curtailed by authoritarian powers.

These recent events are just part of why I am very pleased to see Mr. Wilson, Dr. Twining, Mr. Abramowitz, and Mr. Turkel among the speakers at this important gathering on the global struggle for freedom. Their presence at this conference can serve as an inspiration to our existing collaborations. I hope you all can learn from their experiences in Taiwan while you formulate ways to push back against authoritarian threats and utilize “technology to secure the future of freedom”.

I want to reiterate here that this conference on the world’s struggle for freedom could not have convened at a more significant time, as democracies and the rules-based international order are being challenged on a daily basis. As we work to resolve the lingering effects of the pandemic on the global economy and health, the fluid political situation in many countries around the world have only added to the already long list of challenges before us.

The dangerous potential of authoritarian regimes to corrode democratic institutions and tarnish human rights and civic space cannot be ignored. Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine serves as a prime example. This war is proof that dictatorships will do whatever it takes to achieve their goal of expansionism.

Regretfully, the Taiwanese people are very familiar with such aggression, and we have our own experience with the struggle for freedom. Only about three decades ago, members of civil society in Taiwan took to the streets. They protested and advocated for the lifting of martial law. They asked for more political and social rights for the citizens, and they advocated for the democratization of Taiwan. At the heart of this struggle was the embrace of democracy, a choice that the Taiwanese people fought for after decades of authoritarian rule. And once the Taiwanese people took this path, there was no turning back.

In recent years, the beautiful island we call home has been confronted by increasingly aggressive threats from our authoritarian neighbor, the People’s Republic of China. From daily military intimidations, gray zone activities, and influence operations, to cyber attacks and periodic attempts at economic coercion, China has taken a range of actions with the goal of creating doubt and undermining confidence in what the Taiwanese people have worked so diligently for, that is, our democratic way of life.

But the people of Taiwan continue to meet these persistent threats with calm and composure. And the Taiwanese people have never shied away from utilizing their skills and expertise to counter authoritarian interference. For Taiwan, democracy is more than a fundamental value that unites our people; it is also a critical asset in addressing major challenges. Taiwan is now in the position to share its experience with the world and create alliances, allowing democracies to more effectively deal with crises, and counter the threats of authoritarianism.

As we observe Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine from the other side of the world, Taiwan has been honored to play a role in assisting Ukraine in its struggle to defend its sovereignty and freedom. Together with like-minded partners, we will also make efforts to support Ukraine’s reconstruction of its schools, hospitals, and infrastructure that have been destroyed by the war.

Our efforts must not stop here. The menacing behavior of authoritarian regimes should be a wake-up call to all democracies. We must work together to strengthen our resilience and safeguard our values. But we can only achieve this goal with ample understanding of authoritarian tactics. That is why I’m pleased to learn that the George W. Bush Institute is already tackling important tasks such as combating disinformation, reducing corruption that fuels authoritarian governments, supporting civic renewal, and advancing human rights as national security.

With all these ongoing efforts, we can now work together on countering and reducing influence exerted by authoritarian regimes worldwide. We must also strengthen the alliance of democracies to safeguard and serve the interests of the international community. I know there is an important panel in this conference on how the United States can help support democracy and human rights. US administrations and members of Congress have always been staunch supporters of Taiwan’s democratization and the democratic institutions we now enjoy. I hope Taiwan, along with the US, can now lend its support to those struggling to advocate for democracy and human rights in other countries.

Before I conclude, I want to take this opportunity to thank the United States for its unwavering support for Taiwan, and thank the U.S. Congress for passing legislation to help ensure Taiwan’s security. Of course, I also want to thank President Bush and the George W. Bush Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy, and Freedom House for the invitation to speak. As Ukrainian parliamentarian Kira Rudik told us why she was in Taiwan, she said, “History is teaching us over and over again that unpunished and unremedied evil deeds will return.” Let us work together to ensure that the expansionist deeds of authoritarian states neither flourish nor return. Thank you very much.