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Tsai rings in the New Year with call for unity

President Tsai Ing-wen declared at her year-end news conference Dec. 31 at the Office of the President that in the year to come the government would make an all-out four-pronged effort to boost the economy, continue forward with major reforms, respond to changing international conditions while maintaining peace and stability, and address divisive issues.

The following morning, Tsai and Vice President Chen Chien-jen attended the New Year’s Day flag-raising ceremony and concert in front of the Presidential Office Building, greeting the crowd that gathered to celebrate the first day of 2017.

Speaking to members of the domestic and international press corps on New Year’s Eve, the president urged mutual support and encouragement in the year ahead, dubbing her call “United Together in 2017.” Tsai went on to outline the efforts of her administration in 2016 and its top priorities for 2017.

Citing the Shalun Green Energy Science City project launched Nov. 6, the founding of the Taiwan International Agricultural Development Co. Dec. 5 as well as the opening of the Asia Silicon Valley Development Agency headquarters in northern Taiwan’s Taoyuan City Dec. 25, Tsai said the five-plus-two innovative industries initiative is being implemented step by step. The president’s plan is a comprehensive economic revitalization program targeting emerging and high-growth sectors.

A solid foundation for Taiwan’s future development is being built, Tsai said. “Our task in 2016 was to drive the piles, so to speak. In 2017, we will move quickly ahead with construction,” she stressed. “These are the two most critical years for Taiwan.”

The Tsai administration has placed its focus on four main areas, the most important being revitalizing the economy. “Beginning [in 2017], in an effort to escape from our current economic doldrums and inject new vitality for growth, the government will take a two-pronged approach,” she said. “One is to accelerate measures to restructure the economy; two is to expand infrastructure investment across the board.”

Continuing with reforms is the government’s second major task for 2017, including tackling deficiencies in the pension system. The crux of the pension reform issue is financial sustainability, Tsai said, adding that “we need to ensure that people will actually be able to collect their pensions over the long term.”

The third task is to adapt to changing international circumstances while maintaining peace and stability. “In the midst of these changes, we must also find opportunities to play a more proactive role in regional security, economics and trade,” she said.

“We will vigorously promote the New Southbound Policy, and conduct more diverse exchanges and interaction with the countries of Southeast Asia, as well as India, New Zealand and Australia,” Tsai stressed. The New Southbound Policy is a central plank of the administration’s national development strategy that aims to deepen agricultural, business, cultural, education, tourism and trade links between Taiwan and target countries.

“We will also continue our ongoing dialogue with important trading nations and regions including the U.S., Japan and the European Union to strengthen bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation,” she added.

Regarding cross-strait ties, Tsai said that since her inauguration, her administration has endeavored to maintain peaceful and stable relations across the Taiwan Strait in accordance with the people’s will and consensus in Taiwan. “Driven by our respect for history and the spirit of seeking common ground while setting aside differences, we have continuously expressed goodwill toward the other side across the strait,” she said. “We hope that the two sides can gradually reduce confrontations and differences through positive interactions.”

Tsai continued by saying that in the past few months, it has been the general feeling of the Taiwan people that the rational and calm position that both sides have worked hard to maintain has seen certain changes. “Beijing is going back to the old path of dividing, coercing, and even threatening and intimidating Taiwan,” the president said. “We hope this does not reflect a policy choice by Beijing.”

Such conduct has hurt the feelings of the Taiwan people and destabilized cross-strait relations, she said. “For the sake of safeguarding regional peace and prosperity, I want to once again reiterate that our commitments will not change, and our goodwill will not change,” Tsai added. “But we will not bow to pressure, and we will of course not revert to the old path of confrontation.

“Whether cross-strait ties can take a turn for the better in the coming year will depend on our patience and resolve. But it will also depend on how Beijing sees the future of cross-strait relations, and whether it is willing to assume its share of the responsibility for building new models for cross-strait interactions,” she stated.

Tsai said the government remains committed to the concept of steadfast diplomacy through mutual assistance for mutual benefits. “Next week I will be visiting four of our Central American allies. My visit will not only consolidate friendly ties, but will also boost the morale of our frontline diplomatic personnel.”

The new government’s fourth major task for 2017, Tsai concluded, is to address divisive issues. “As president, I will not stand back on these matters. I need to find space for dialogue between divergent opinions, and then find a reasonable way to resolve differences.” (KWS-E)

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