While en route to Central America on a trip codenamed the "Ing-Jie Project," President Tsai Ing-wen and her accompanying delegation made a transit stop in Houston, Texas. Their chartered aircraft arrived at 9:30 a.m. on January 7 local time (23:30 on January 7 Taipei time) at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Before the president got off her plane, ROC Representative to the United States Stanley Kao (高碩泰) and American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman James Moriarty boarded the plane to welcome her. The president and her delegation then proceeded to their hotel, where she attended a banquet at 6:30 p.m. with the local expatriate community, from whom she received an enthusiastic welcome.
In remarks, President Tsai stated that since her administration came to power in May of last year it has strived to enhance Taiwan-US relations. The US is Taiwan's most important ally and friend, and has a very special place in the hearts and minds of the people of Taiwan.
The president further pointed out that over the past year Taiwan and the US have achieved concrete progress on a number of fronts, including trade, investment, tourism, cultural exchanges, and security cooperation. Taiwan is the ninth-largest trading partner of the US and directly or indirectly provides more than 320,000 job opportunities for the American people. The president also expressed hope that Taiwan can create even more job opportunities in the US by further boosting its investment, trade, and procurement activities there.
President Tsai mentioned that last year we established a new route for direct flights from Taiwan to Chicago, and two-way tourist travel has topped one million for the first time, which stands as proof of the firm and lasting friendship that exists between the people of Taiwan and the US. At the same time, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the US Congress passed last year, will spur even closer cooperation between Taiwan and the US, thus helping the two countries to work together to maintain regional peace and stability.
President Tsai stated that if it weren't for the unflagging support of friends in the US government and Congress, the achievements she just mentioned would never have come about, so the president sincerely thanked the US for its resolute friendship and support. She also indicated that, as a friend and partner of the US, Taiwan will continue to work hand-in-hand with the US to advance the two countries' common interests and act upon their shared values.
President Tsai also said she was very happy to be in Houston once again, and recalled that when she last visited there in June of 2015 in her capacity as a presidential candidate, she could feel the sincere enthusiasm of the expatriate community in Houston even though her time there was short. The security arrangements, moreover, have been excellent regardless whether she was visiting as a presidential candidate or as president. In addition to expressing gratitude to the Houston city government for its assistance, the president also thanked friends from Taiwan who've been working hard in Houston and the southern US, and said it is their efforts and contributions to local communities over the years that afford Taiwan greater power and influence in the US.
President Tsai stated that she had met a bit earlier with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and during the meeting Mayor Turner told her that Houston is a city of diversity where demographic and cultural factors make for an atmosphere of great tolerance. She was also very impressed by the pension reform effort currently underway in Houston, saying that the undertaking in Taiwan was most certainly not a focus of political in-fighting but was being carried out in order to make the pension system more financially viable. Some may feel that the reforms will result in people "receiving less, paying more, and retiring later," said the president, but she urged listeners to remember that the purpose of pension system reform is to ensure that everyone can "receive their pension, and receive it longer." "That's what pension reform is about," she said.
President Tsai also mentioned that Taiwan's economy has reached a crossroads, and that the task of economic transformation and restructuring ought to have been undertaken 10 or 20 years ago. Now, however, we are planning to set innovative forces in motion to promote economic transformation. We will use the resources of the government and tap into the power of the private sector, she said, as we work together to revitalize the economy.
President Tsai explained that the government is now working to develop green energy, the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, the Internet of Things, smart machinery, the national defense industry, the circular economy, and new agriculture. She called upon those present at the banquet to integrate the resources of Taiwan and the US, organize Taiwanese and American human resources, and create powerful research or innovation teams and business partners so that everyone can work together to strengthen Taiwan's economy.
President Tsai also spoke about Taiwan's long-term care policy, explaining that more and more people in Taiwan are worried that there won't be anyone to care for them when they grow old, but caring for old people is a heavy burden. This is especially true with respect to long-term care for senior citizens whose bodily functions and mental acuity are seriously impaired. However, we must keep in mind that "it is a terrible situation if older people with serious physical and mental impairments have no one to care for them, but we cannot for that reason allow their caretakers to become overworked." That is why our long-term care system must be well funded and have a proper organizational system. We must see to it that the elderly are well cared for while their caretakers get sufficient rest and have their pay kept at a proper level. A responsible government must get these things done. Taiwan's government is currently carrying out a pilot project to give people a feel for how things would work, so that they will be more willing to endorse the way of using fiscal measures to support our long-term care system. And we hope, said the president, that everyone will pitch in to help the government on this front.
President Tsai closed with a heart-felt remark regarding the warm reception that she and her delegation had received in Houston. Even though they arrived on the coldest day of the winter season, there were still lots of people on hand to greet her enthusiastically when she got off the aircraft, and she shook hands with them one by one. Each person's hands were icy cold, but the feeling in her heart was one of great warmth. The president again expressed gratitude to the expatriates in Houston for their enthusiasm and warmth, and thanked everyone for the love they bear toward their homeland.
Included among those in attendance at the banquet were: AIT Chairman James Moriarty; US Congresspersons Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green, and Blake Farenthold; Taiwan's National Security Council Secretary-General Joseph Wu (吳釗燮); Deputy Secretary-General to the President Yao Jen-to (姚人多); Minister of Foreign Affairs David T. Lee (李大維); ROC Representative to the United States Stanley Kao; Minister Wu Hsin-hsing (吳新興) of the Overseas Community Affairs Council; Deputy Minister of Agriculture Weng Chang-liang (翁章梁); Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Mei-Hua Wang (王美花); Legislators Chen Ming-Wen (陳明文), Pasuya Yao (姚文智), Chuang Jui-Hsiung (莊瑞雄), Chou Chen Hsiu-Hsia (周陳秀霞), Yu Wan-Ju (余宛如), and Hung Tzu-Yung (洪慈庸); and Yilan County Magistrate Lin Tsung-Hsien (林聰賢).