President Tsai Ing-wen participated in a discussion at Columbia University on July 12, 2019, which focused on democracy in Taiwan. Her visit drew a huge amount of public attention, and the event was attended by over 160 Columbia students, faculty, and invited guests, including Dr. Min-Ling Yang, Director of the Education Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York.
The discussion was chaired and moderated by Andrew J. Nathan, Professor of Political Science and chair of the steering committee of the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia, and also moderated by Columbia’s Professor Jack Snyder. President Tsai began her 16-minute speech speaking about her own experiences as a law student at New York and then went on to address a wide range of issues, including Taiwan's path to democratization, lessons to be learned from recent incidents in Hong Kong, the disinformation challenge that countries all around the world are facing, and the false choice between democracy and economic development that some countries feel they have to make. “Taiwan has continually shown the world that democracy and economic growth are not only mutually beneficial, they are irrevocably intertwined.”
She pointed out that Taiwan’s “path to democratization was paved with the blood, sweat, and tears of those who came before us”, but she spoke firmly of the importance of democracy. “Each day that Taiwan chooses freedom of speech, human rights and the rule of law is a day that we drift farther from the influences of authoritarianism" President Tsai said. "Taiwan stands as a rare example of a country that has both experienced authoritarianism and championed democracy in the modern age." and she spoke of Taiwan’s achievements in the advancement of “progressive values,” citing her own election as Taiwan’s first female president, and Taiwan’s recent legalization of same-sex marriage. In her closing remarks, Tsai quoted former U.S. President Herbert Hoover: "Freedom is the open window through which pours the sunlight of the human spirit and human dignity."
After the discussion she was happy to meet with international students from Taiwan. She expressed her genuine interest in their studies and life as international students in New York, describing them as great overseas human resources for the country.