Taoyuan mayor Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦), who is on a visit to the United States, spoke on Tuesday evening at the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church near Washington, DC. The talk, hosted by the Baltimore and Washington chapters of the DC Taiwan Association in America, included a speech and a presentation by Mayor Cheng.

Cheng, a popular Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) mayor who recently emphasized his support for incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), told the assembled audience that he appreciated the U.S. standing in support of Taiwan – and that its support must continue to protect democracy in the shadow of the Chinese authoritarian regime.

Cheng started with a report of what he did in the capital city of the United States. Throughout the day and prior to the talk, he visited four major U.S. think tanks: Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Brookings Institute, Hudson Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation. He met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy and discussed pressure from Beijing as well as U.S.-Taiwan relations ahead of the 40-year anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which governs unofficial ties between Washington and Taipei.


Credit: 華府台灣同鄉會 / Facebook

Cheng Wen-tsan (L) prepares to address the crowd in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Mar. 5.

Cheng also met with two U.S. senators: Todd Young, a Republican, and Tim Kaine, a Democrat and Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016. Cheng said he also visited the White House, although he did not specify who he met.

This agenda suggests a degree of diversity in seeking support from major U.S. influencers and policymakers on the topic of Taiwan.

Mayor Cheng started his talk by highlighting his experience with Taiwan’s democratization movement and his work as mayor of Taoyuan, which he has governed since 2014. Cheng won a new four-year mayoral term in November after handily defeating Kuomintang (KMT) challenger Apollo Chen (陳學聖). During his talk, Cheng shared his roots in democratic participation – Cheng was a member of the executive team during the Wild Lily Movement in 1990.

Cheng honed in on U.S.-Taiwan Relations in the context of China, highlighting on-going conflicts between the U.S. and China. He cited Huawei as an example of a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) backed corporation that enjoys unfair competition. According to Cheng, the concept of a “China Dream” to establish Chinese power is potentially dangerous for the world.

Despite changes and reforms in China, the underlying desire by the Chinese leadership was still the same as traditional Chinese attitudes, said Cheng. It is apparent that China is attempting to build a prosperous state as well as a strong military force (富國強兵). This is a different model than the empowerment of the people (強民), according to Cheng, which conflicts with Taiwan’s democratic values.

Cheng believes that China wants to be on an equal footing with the United States. Taiwan thus stands like David in the famed biblical story against Goliath.


Credit: Reuters / TPG

Taiwan faces a David vs. Goliath battle in countering China, said Cheng Wen-tsan.

But Taiwan must not be left alone in its fight, said Cheng. Democracy, not authoritarianism, should be the only choice for Taiwan and its people going forward.

He called for efforts to defend Taiwan’s democracy and focused on the importance of keeping Taiwan’s name despite Chinese efforts to marginalize Taiwan. The Taiwan Strait should not and must not become the “Chinese Taipei Strait,” he said, despite pressure by China on private companies for nominal changes. In maintaining this identity, Cheng explained, Taiwan does not appear to be the one provoking conflicts.

According to Cheng, all parties in Taiwan should operate under a common framework – to reach a consensus in recognizing Taiwan as a nation-state. Only then can Taiwan move forward and coordinate with the international community, keeping Taiwan secure and democratic.

Cheng said that any disagreement on whether to recognize Taiwan is dangerous. There should not be a debate on which flag to bear, he said. Though Cheng did not mention the KMT by name, this statement was likely targeted at KMT platforms advocating eventual unification with China.

Drawing from his day visiting the White House, the State Department, and other major U.S. governmental organs, Cheng said he believes that the U.S. strongly supports the efforts of President Tsai in preserving the status quo and cross-Strait peace. He praised efforts by both Democrats and the Republicans in recognizing China as an emerging threat.

China, according to Cheng, has misused the prosperity it was able to attain after Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, instead directing them towards ill-intentioned purposes such as financing its Belt and Road Initiative and heavily investing in its own military capability.

He criticized what he described as a “technical exclusion” of Taiwan from the World Health Organization (WHO) meeting to select vaccines, saying the action attempted to embarrass Taiwan. At the same time, he said, it showed how China is willing to disrupt international cooperation and norms to further its own agenda.


Credit: 華府台灣同鄉會 / Facebook

Cheng Wen-tsan takes questions from assembled media in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Mar. 5.

Cheng concluded by saying that Taiwan should never make war an option – leaving peace as the only path forward. The Taiwanese people, he claimed, have never waged a war yet have always been the victim of wars. This statement was likely made under the assumption that the KMT and Chinese history are separate from the Taiwanese identity and people.

After the talk, Cheng sang together with the audience his 2014 campaign song: “Perseverance" (堅持) by Wen Li-you (翁立友). Cheng chose the song as a reflection of his own struggle fighting for democracy and progress.

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Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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