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Freedoms menaced, Tsai tells New Yorkers

2019-07-14Taipei Times  English News
President Tsai Ing-wen toasts guests after giving a speech at a banquet in New York on Friday./Photo courtesy of CNA
President Tsai Ing-wen toasts guests after giving a speech at a banquet in New York on Friday./Photo courtesy of CNA

resident Tsai Ing-wen on Friday night appeared before more than 1,000 supporters in Manhattan, New York City, touting Taiwan as a bastion of democracy while warning that freedoms around the world are under threat like never before.

“It is absolutely crucial for democracies to work together to counter the expansion of authoritarian influences,” Tsai told a packed house at the Grand Hyatt New York, without mentioning China by name.

“We cannot take Taiwan’s hard-earned freedom and democracy for granted,” she said.

Tsai’s first-ever transit through New York as president, part of a larger 12-day journey to the nation’s four Caribbean diplomatic allies, sparked anger and outrage from China, which urged the US government not to allow it.

Pro-Beijing protesters turned out by the hundreds on Thursday and Friday to rally outside the hotel near Manhattan’s iconic Grand Central Station.

Penned in by New York Police Department barricades, demonstrators held aloft a panoply of handmade signs, including ones that read: “Oppose Taiwanese independence” and “Taiwan is China’s”.

At one point, they also blasted the Chinese national anthem on loudspeakers as they waved US and Chinese flags, a scene that stopped vehicles and pedestrians in their tracks.

Speaking in English, as well as in Mandarin and Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), Tsai told the roughly 1,070 banquet attendees that Taiwan and New York are more alike than people think.

“We both take pride in our progressive society, openness to new ideas and tolerance for different opinions — like the noise outside of this hotel,” she said, referring to the pro-Beijing protests, a remark that drew both laughter and applause.

Tsai’s trip, dubbed the “Journey of Freedom, Democracy and Sustainability,” is to take her to Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Saint Lucia, four of Taiwan’s 17 remaining diplomatic allies.

Democratic and Republican members of the US Congress who attended the event spoke of their strong support for Taiwan.

They mentioned a US$2.2 billion possible weapons sale to Taiwan approved this week by the US Department of State and the US’ Taiwan Travel Act, signed into law last year by US President Donald Trump.

The act allows senior US officials to travel to Taiwan and vice-versa.

“We’re standing together to face a growing threat,” said Republican US Representative Michael McCaul, a ranking member on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. “China threatens our shared security, our values and our system of government.”

Earlier in the day, Tsai attended a Taiwan-US business summit and participated in a panel discussion at Columbia University.

On Thursday, she visited the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York, the nation’s de facto embassy, and met with a group of permanent representatives to the UN from nations that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Before heading home, Tsai is to stop in Denver, Colorado, also for two days. There, she is expected to meet with reporters at an informal gathering to share the results of her visits.

Tsai is scheduled to return home on July 22.