President Tsai Ing-wen held a reception for the press corps traveling with her delegation at her hotel in Paraguay at 5:00 p.m. on June 29 (5:00 a.m. June 30 Taipei time). The president responded to questions from the media on topics including foreign policy, cross-strait relations, and the achievements of her trip.
In response to a question about the difference between "pragmatic diplomacy" and "steadfast diplomacy," President Tsai stated that Taiwan's "pragmatic diplomacy" of the 1990s was formulated against the background of that era. But the prevailing international circumstances and Taiwan's diplomatic situation are different now. So at different stages, we have to find a different position and attitude to address foreign affairs. The "steadfast diplomacy" policy adopted by her administration means acting in the spirit of "steadily moving ahead, unwavering and firm in purpose, to overcome Taiwan's various diplomatic challenges." At the same time, we need to find complementary spaces between us and our diplomatic allies where we can develop concrete, feasible, and substantive cooperative relationships based on mutual benefit.
As an example, the president cited Taiwan and Paraguay as having considerable complementary opportunities in many economic and trade areas. President Tsai said that President Horacio Cartes told her that Paraguay hoped to abandon the previous practice of accepting one-way aid from Taiwan. Instead, he expressed interest in looking for further bilateral cooperation and mutual exchanges of experience in economics and trade, hoping that Taiwan will be an important platform to help Paraguay's products gain access to Asian markets. President Tsai responded by saying that in the future, Taiwan will increase the scholarship quota for Paraguayan students under the Taiwan Scholarship program from 14 to 28, and will continue to increase the quota for Paraguayan beef exports to Taiwan.
Turning to the achievements of the current trip, the president said she had not only gained a greater understanding of our allies and their current situations, but also had more time to interact with the key decision makers within those countries. This helped enhance trust and mutual understanding among the leaders on all sides. In the future, she said, diplomacy shouldn't emphasize unilateral aid. Instead, diplomacy should be about finding opportunities for mutually beneficial and concrete cooperation. She strongly agreed when President Cartes said to her: "Your country is bigger than you imagine." President Tsai remarked that her very personal experience of our allies on this trip was profoundly significant, and will greatly benefit her foreign policy decision-making in the years to come.
A member of the press corps at the reception then asked President Tsai whether the new administration's approach to foreign aid would be different from those in the past. The president responded that in the past, due to the nation's difficult situation, some of the government's methods for maintaining foreign relations were subject to outside criticism. But today, Taiwan is a very different country, and every act of government must be subject to public scrutiny and legislative supervision, and carried out in accordance with law. She then added, "Perhaps, after a certain period of time, you probably won't ask me this sort of question anymore."
Discussing Taiwan's relations with its allies and mainland China, President Tsai stated that Panama showed a mature attitude by inviting her and also the mainland China leader to participate in the inauguration ceremony for the Panama Canal Expansion. In doing so, Panama showed its concern for cross-strait relations, hoping to maintain cross-strait peace and stability. President Tsai said: "These are positive attitudes."
The president also pointed out that during her visit to Panama, she and President Juan Carlos Varela interacted positively and conversed candidly. Panama had notified Taiwan in advance that the vessel making the inaugural transit through the expanded canal would be a Chinese-chartered cargo ship, hoping that would not be an issue for Taiwan. Our government replied that it was not an issue. The president noted that only one ship could transit through the newly expanded canal that day, and that the decision was based on a competitive process. In the international arena, these kinds of things happen all the time. So it should be treated as a normal, everyday occurrence.
Addressing cross-strait topics, the president said that an important factor in maintaining peace and stability in cross-strait relations is for both parties to reopen the communication mechanism between Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and mainland China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS). Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, she stated, is a collaborative effort that is the responsibility of all parties, and not one borne by Taiwan and mainland China alone. So she hopes all regional stakeholders will join together and help foster peaceful cross-strait relations. "All parties need to give their best efforts," she said. The president also emphasized that in her inaugural address on May 20, she has already shown the greatest possible sincerity and flexibility. She hopes that mainland China can see that, and at the same time display a more flexible attitude so that cross-strait relations can progress, and stability can be maintained.
The president then pointed out that in her speech to the National Congress of Paraguay, she primarily wanted to describe bilateral relations and common values, and share Taiwan's experiences in developing its democracy. Both countries have been through the transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Despite facing many difficulties, Taiwan mobilized the entire country and its social forces to overcome those difficulties together. These, she said, are experiences that can be shared with our allies. As next year will mark the 60th year of official Taiwan-Paraguay diplomatic relations, the president hopes that both countries will discuss new ways of doing things, to make the next 60 years of bilateral relations even more stable and mutually beneficial.
Asked about her view on the Cabinet's performance in Taiwan, President Tsai said that any new administration that takes over the reins of government will face challenges, and that this has actually been a break-in period. Cabinet members have had to get used to working with one aother, and even the heads of ministries and government agencies have had a break-in period with their respective teams. This was especially true when the new Cabinet, shortly after being formed on May 20, was subject to interpolations at the Legislative Yuan. That meant many Cabinet members had insufficient time to complete internal arrangements and preparations. President Tsai nevertheless believes that the vast majority of Cabinet members are experienced political appointees, and as soon as the break-in period draws to a close, the situation will gradually stabilize and their performance will continue to improve.
The president emphasized that she was elected president, and this entails the ultimate responsibility for carrying out policies. So in the future, she is the one who will be subject to scrutiny. Going forward, she will continue to communicate with the Cabinet to understand any difficulties they may be facing in carrying out the administration's policies, and any adjustments that need to be made.
Referring to the labor rights issues that have recently attracted widespread concern, the media asked about the case of a China Airlines employee who was suspected of making a bomb threat. The president responded by saying that given the speed of information flow in contemporary society and the numerous media reports focusing on so many topics, government leaders can obtain information about many issues immediately. They hope, as much as possible, to look out for the wellbeing of each and every person. But there will always be conflicts of interest between certain people. Labor and management, for example, are often at odds. There are many ways to handle that, including negotiation mechanisms and intervention by a third party. But it's difficult to have a case where everyone is fully satisfied, so negotiations have to be conducted with much patience and a rational approach.
The president said that when society starts to consider whether labor protections are sufficient – including whether work hours are too long, pay is too low, or labor conditions need to be evaluated – while the economic picture is still not particularly bright, finding a space that is acceptable to both sides, and still allows for the stable development of Taiwan's economy is a great challenge. She thus hopes that society can face these issues rationally, and discuss them patiently. That, she stated, is what's good for Taiwan's long-term development.
The president went on to say that the Cabinet is currently working to realize a five-day workweek for laborers. Basically, the current Labor Standards Act amendments were drafted with an eye towards progressive legislation, thereby hoping to improve the excessive working hours issue for laborers. This is what the Cabinet is currently working on, she said, and we hope that everyone will give them more support.
Responding to a media question about transitional justice for Taiwan's indigenous peoples, the president said she thinks it's best to handle that issue at the presidential level. This, she noted, is not simply about the delegation of power, but about how we can address a problem that has resulted from hundreds of years of history. It prompts us to ask what kind of soul-searching, discussion, and changes are needed in Taiwan society regarding our indigenous peoples. That requires self-reflection by the entire country, with a high level of presidential leadership. This is an enormous undertaking, and only the president has the political capacity to guide that kind of national reflection. So both the importance and breadth of this issue will be enhanced, she said, by addressing it at the presidential level.
Secretary-General of the National Security Council Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), Minister of Foreign Affairs David T. Lee (李大維), Deputy Secretaries-General to the President Liu Chien-sin (劉建忻) and Tseng Hou-jen (曾厚仁), and Taiwan's Ambassador to Paraguay Alexander Tah-Ray Yui (俞大㵢) also attended the reception.