The title of the event was chosen to symbolize Taiwan’s democratic transition, paralleling Professor Yeh’s own career. The 8.17 communique signed on Aug. 17, 1982 between the U.S. and China occurred during the period of Martial Law in Taiwan, which was lifted in 1987. At the time, Professor Yeh was studying law at Yale University under a full scholarship from Taiwan’s Ministry of Education. After graduating, he returned to Taiwan with a strong desire to contribute to the democratization process. He became a legal scholar specializing in environmental law, constitutional law, and the constitutional process. His work contributed to the many important changes in the ROC constitution that have facilitated the democratic transition of Taiwan’s political system, both through constitutional amendments passed by the Legislature and through Constitutional Interpretations issued by the Council of Grand Justices, Taiwan’s supreme court. These constitutional changes paved the way for key milestones such as the 1992 popular election for national legislators, the first direct presidential election in 1996, and the first transfer of the presidency to an opposition party in 2000. As a potent symbol of the success of Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen was recently reelected in January with a total 8.17 million votes cast in her favor, comprising the second part of the event’s name. Professor Yeh has also served in several government roles, including as the Minister of the Interior from 2016-2018, and as Minister of Education in 2018.
In addition to past changes in the ROC Constitution that facilitated democratic changes, Professor Yeh expressed his confidence that the Constitution would be able to address social issues. In a recent landmark case, the Council of Grand Justices issued a Constitutional Interpretation in May 2017 which declared that prohibiting same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, paving the way for Taiwan to become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.
The event was open to the public and attended by many Taiwanese students studying at universities in the greater New York area. TECO Deputy Director Andrew Yang welcomed Professor Yeh, while Education Division Director Min-Ling Yang delivered the closing remarks.