Former President George W. Bush spoke with current Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on worldwide threats to democracy, with an emphasis on Chinese aggression against the island territory.
Ing-wen appeared via video call at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on Wednesday for an appearance in the center's "Struggle for Freedom" event. Ing-wen spoke at length both on her own and in conversation with the former president about the threats posed to Taiwanese sovereignty.
"I want to reiterate here that this conference on the world's 'Struggle for Freedom' could not have convened at a more significant time. As democracies and the rules based international order are being challenged on a daily basis," Ing-wen said in opening remarks. "As we work to resolve the lingering effects of the pandemic on the global economy and health, the fluid political situations in many countries around the world have only added to the already long list of challenges before us. The dangerous potential of authoritarian regimes to corrode democratic institutions and tarnish human rights and civic space cannot be ignored."
Ing-wen set a tone of condemnation as she stated unambiguously her belief that Russia's continued invasion of neighboring Ukraine was a threat to international democracy.
"Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine serves as a prime example. This war is proof that dictatorships will do whatever it takes to achieve their goal of expansionism. Regretfully, the Taiwanese people are very familiar with such aggression," Ing-wen stated. She continued, recounting her own country's internal and external struggles for democratic political rights. "And we have our own experience with the struggle for freedom. Only about three decades ago, members of civil society in Taiwan took to the streets. They protested and advocated for the lifting of Martial Law. They asked for more political and social rights for the citizens, and they advocated for the democratization of Taiwan."
The event was headlined by a talk with the president on the rise of authoritarian politics internationally.
Bush called attention to the war in Ukraine as his co-headliner, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was unable to attend virtually "due to Russia’s strikes in Ukraine."
"What will Europe look like 10 years from now if Russia conquers Ukraine?" Bush asked the audience, stating that the U.S. public had not only a "moral interest," but a "national interest" in defending Ukraine. "The consequences for failure are significant, not only for Ukraine but for our own country."
Speaking of his time in office, Bush said that he consciously chose not to meet with autocratic leaders when possible, afraid that U.S. cooperation with authoritarian states would lend legitimacy.
"I didn't want to lend our great status as a beacon of freedom to honoring an autocrat," Bush claimed. "But when I did meet with the Chinese leaders, I always talked about the need to have freedom of religion. I didn't do it to embarrass them. I just did it to remind them that if they had freedom of religion in their country would be better off — particularly when it came to helping a neighbor in need."
Russia on Tuesday struck Kyiv with at least two missiles, hitting residential buildings and forcing civilians to flee to underground stations and take cover.
Air sirens rang out across central Kyiv as Ukrainians defenses worked to stop a barrage of missile attacks across the country.
While air defenses shot down four missiles over the capital city, another two hit residential buildings in the city center, resulting in an indeterminate number of casualties according to the Deputy Head of the President’s Office of Ukraine Kyrylo Tymoshenko.
Fox News' Caitlin McFall contributed to this report.