On the morning of June 25, 2018, President Tsai Ing-wen attended an opening ceremony celebrating the 15th anniversary of the founding of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD). In addition to explaining Taiwan's democratic development, the president emphasized that only if like-minded countries work and stand together can we fight against unwanted economic, political, or military coercion, and defend the values we hold dear.
The following is a transcript of the president's speech:
President Gershman (Carl Gershman, President of the US National Endowment for Democracy),
Chairperson Su (蘇嘉全, TFD Chairperson Su Jia-Chyuan),
Minister Wu (吳釗燮, Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu,),
President Hsu (徐斯儉, TFD President Szu-chien Hsu),
Friends and colleagues:
To begin, I want to thank President Hsu and everyone at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy for making today's event possible. I also want to thank those who came all the way to Taiwan to celebrate the TFD's 15th anniversary with us.
It is a privilege to be here with so many long-time democracy advocates. But we all know, today is not just a celebration. Today is also a timely opportunity for all of us to reflect on the past, present, and future of democracy.
Democracy won the 20th century.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War accelerated what Samuel Huntington defined as "the third wave of democratisation". People from Eastern Europe to Latin America, and from Asia to Africa embraced the values of freedom, democracy, and human rights.
That includes Taiwan, of course. Thirty years ago, Taiwan lifted martial law and instituted free elections. Freedoms such as the freedom of expression, press, and assembly, took hold. Today, we're considered one of the world's most vibrant democracies, with the greatest press freedom in Asia.
Like most democracies, our transition was not easy, or always peaceful. We do not forget those people who were prosecuted or otherwise suffered during our long pursuit of democracy. Their stories remind us of the need for transitional justice, so our people can reconcile with the past and move on together.
Our democracy is still young, and has room for improvement. Democracy means respect for our differences, including people with different ideologies and beliefs. It also means finding ways to bridge our differences through understanding, dialogue, and consensus-building so that we can move on together as a whole.
While democracy can move forward, it can also regress. In the 21st century, democracy is in danger, or, in retreat.
According to Freedom House, this year marks the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. Our shared values like the rule of law, freedom of speech, and human rights are being challenged around the world. In some parts of the world, democracy is being eroded by populism and terrorism.
A recent report issued by the National Endowment for Democracy, a close partner of the TFD, asserts that authoritarian regimes are exercising sharp power to take advantage of our free and open societies, promote alternative agendas, control and censor information, and undermine our democracies.
How we meet these challenges will determine what kind of values we pass on to future generations. It's up to us to make sure our democracy not only survives, but is able to thrive.
Taiwan is on the front-lines of a battle that is taking place here, in Australia, the United States, Europe, and in like-minded countries all over the world. Over the past two years, we have faced increasing pressure from China as they threaten our democratic way of life and limit our international space.
These anti-democratic forces will proliferate if like-minded countries do not stand and act together. It is only if like-minded countries work together – and stand together – can we fight against unwanted economic, political, or military coercion, and defend the values we hold dear.
It is said that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty". That saying is more relevant now than ever. Only by taking collective action, can we ensure that democracy will continue to shape the future of our world. Historical trends do not always favour the forward march of democracy. But in Taiwan, moving backward is not an option.
So on the 15th anniversary of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, I want to thank you all for joining us. I'm sure that Taiwan will benefit from your insights and experiences on how we can work together to preserve democracy for future generations.