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Thank you for joining us to celebrate the 107th National Day of the ROC (Taiwan). Every year on the 10th of October we celebrate our nation’s birthday not only at home in Taiwan, but also abroad where there are Taiwanese communities. This is the day that brings all our compatriots together, connecting all our hearts, from all over the world. And we are grateful that you’re here to join us in our jubilation.

107 years ago, exactly on the same day, an armed rebellion against the Ching dynasty occurred in Wuchang, an inland city of China. After many failed attempts, it was the first successful uprising staged by elements of the New Army and inspired by the revolutionaries led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. It quickly sparked several other uprisings that spread all over China, which led to the downfall of the Ching dynasty along with thousand years of imperial rule. It also gave birth to the first Republic in Asia, the Republic of China, on January 1, 1912.

Republic of China is the official name of Taiwan. This is why we celebrate its 107th birthday tonight. In contrast, the Chinese embassy in town just recently celebrated its 69th birthday of the PRC, which was established in 1949. We are actually 39 years older than the PRC.

But before I go any further, I need to warn you. You have come to a peculiar event tonight…because you’re celebrating a country that some say doesn’t even exist. Well, for a non-existent country, Taiwan shows surprising signs of life. A population of over 23 million. A vibrant & full-fledged democracy. A free press protected by laws. A vanguard for LGBTI rights in Asia. Its GDP is ranked 22nd in the world according to the IMF. Its foreign exchange reserve is 5th largest. It’s a technology leader, supplying vital advanced hardware to the world. It has strong sports and athletics teams. Its civil society is dynamic. It enjoys a thriving arts industry, with creativity in performance, music, visual arts, movies and literature and so forth.

So, as it turns out, you don’t need to exist to make a real contribution.

Of course, Taiwan does exist. It’s a very real place. It’s a very real country. But it’s no secret that it holds an uneasy status in the world. Only 17 countries now hold diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It keeps full membership in only 37 intergovernmental organizations. It’s not a member of the UN and its officials cannot participate in the events run by UN agencies. Never before in modern history has a country of Taiwan’s strength been so sidelined in world politics. The last two years, in particular, have seen a series of disheartening setbacks.

Despite all difficulties, and unlike some isolated states that resorted to violence and defied international norms, Taiwan is determined to be a “responsible stakeholder”. Taiwan abides by the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, as well as other UN resolutions in which it had no say. It follows international accords on environmental concerns, including the Paris Accord on climate change. Although excluded form the WHO in Geneva, Taiwan continues to contribute to global health. It provides humanitarian assistance to those who show Taiwan no formal recognition.

Why do we do so? Because Taiwan represents the idea of standing up for values – of being a responsible stakeholder in the world. Consequently, 165 countries have accorded visa-free, landing visa or e-visa privileges to Taiwan passport holders. There are working holiday agreements with 16 countries, among which 11 in the EU, including Belgium. Last month Luxembourg also joined this arrangement. As a result, we now anticipate growing exchanges between young people of our two countries.

More generally, Taiwan is an important trading partner with Europe, last year becoming the EU’s 16th largest. The EU is Taiwan’s 5th trading partner and the largest foreign investor. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Taiwan-EU annual consultation, as well as 15th anniversary of the EU office in Taipei. Today the EU-Taiwan relationship is no longer just about economics and trade. We now have a fixed and stable mechanism for annual consultation that deals with both trade and non-trade issues, such as combating climate change, anti-money laundering, counter human-trafficking, and promotion for gender equality and human rights.

I wish I could end my speech here. But a few words need to be said about the challenges Taiwan now faces.

In the past two years, Taiwan has been the target of an increasingly vitriolic series of attacks by China. The methods are varied, but they have one aim in common: to gradually erode Taiwan’s international standing until its sovereignty, its democracy and its very existence quietly fade away. This is not the place to go into details about everything that has happened recently between China and Taiwan. But it’s important to draw to your attention the sustained campaign being waged against my country.

On security, China has intensified its military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. Chinese aircraft carrier and jet fighters have actively conducted drills, in some cases live fire, encircling the island of Taiwan. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army spokesman publicly claimed that it’s going to be part of their routine military trainings.

In diplomacy, China has relentlessly pursued Taiwan’s allies, convincing them to renounce ties with Taiwan in return for large loans, often for unfeasible or ill-judged civil projects. El Salvador is the latest to switch allegiance to China. Far from being an isolated case, it is part of an escalating and ruthless crusade to restrict Taiwan’s international space.

In addition, China went beyond to target international companies which dare to list Taiwan on their websites. In January of this year, Marriott Hotel was forced to issue an apology to Beijing after listing Taiwan as a separate country. This was followed a few months later by threats to international airlines who did not list Taiwan’s airports under “China”. Governments in the US, the EU, the UK and Australia spoke out against this enforced ideology on private enterprise, but all airlines eventually bowed to the economic pressure. It may seem petty and negligible, but China’s intention was deadly serious.

Well, why should Taiwan matterYou may ask. In my view, it matters because Taiwan is a beacon of democracy for Chinese societies all over the world. In China, the Communist Party’s move to abolish presidential term limits sparked international concern earlier this year. The subsequent global repercussion clearly showed how important democratic values are to the world community. Despite some recent frustration of western values in certain countries, we firmly believe that freedom and democracy is the right path for our common future. Democracy is more than just a way of life. It is the lifeblood of a nation’s diversified development, a source of strength for continuous innovation and sustainable prosperity. If Taiwan can develop a successful democracy against all odds, sooner or later people in China will ask themselves why can’t they also achieve the same. In reality Taiwan has set an example of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law for China to follow.

So this is not only an issue for Taiwan. This is a fight for democratic values worldwide. China’s soft power, its sharp power and ultimately its hard power will be increasingly felt all over the world, including in Europe, as fundamental freedoms are threatened. In many ways Taiwan is a litmus test to determine the kind of world our children will inherit. If Taiwan can prevail, there is hope for democracy, liberty and rule-of-law around the world. If it should fail, the flame of hope will grow dimmer still.

Having said all this, let me return to the theme of National Day and conclude my remarks. A National Day should be a celebration, and that is what we are here for. We are here to celebrate Taiwan’s vibrancy, its resilience, its beauty, its progress, its success and its potential. Taiwan, and with it the values we share, face an uncertain future. We call on you, our friends, to continue to speak and act in our support.

107 years ago when our Republic was established, our founding fathers had in their vision a country “Of the people, By the people and For the people,” a true democracy with largely equal distribution of wealth; a true democracy that respects human rights and rule of law. Today their vision was realized in Taiwan, not in the Chinese mainland. Taiwan as a model of democracy, its significance should not be overlooked. This is the reason we celebrate our National Day and I hope it is also the reason you came to join us in our celebration.

Again, thank you very much. Please raise your glasses. Please join me in a toast for the ever-lasting friendship between Taiwan and the EU and Belgium.