Taiwan will keep bolstering its defenses to ensure nobody can force the island to accept the path China has laid down that offers neither freedom nor democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Sunday, in a strong riposte to Beijing.
Claimed by China as its own territory, Taiwan has come under growing military and political pressure to accept Beijing’s rule, including repeated Chinese air force missions in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, to international concern.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday vowed to realize “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan and did not directly mention the use of force. Still, he got an angry reaction from Taipei, which said only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.
Addressing a National Day rally, Tsai said she hope for an easing of tensions across the Taiwan Strait, and reiterated Taiwan will not “act rashly.”
“But there should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure,” she said in the speech outside the presidential office in central Taipei.
“We will continue to bolster our national defense and demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves in order to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us,” Tsai added.
“This is because the path that China has laid out offers neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan, nor sovereignt for our 23 million people.”
Tsai repeated an offer to talk to China on the basis of parity. Beijing has refused to deal with her, calling her a separatist who refuses to acknowledge Taiwan is part of “one China.”
Taiwan’s goodwill will not change, and it will do all it can to prevent the status quo with China from being unilaterally altered, she said.
Tsai warned that Taiwan’s situation is “more complex and fluid than at any other point in the past 72 years,” and that China’s routine military presence in Taiwan’s air defense zone has seriously affected national security and aviation safety.
She is overseeing a military modernisation program to bolster its defenses and deterrence, including building its own submarines.
Taiwan stands on the front lines of defending democracy, Tsai said.
“The more we achieve, the greater the pressure we face from China. So I want to remind all my fellow citizens that we do not have the privilege of letting down our guard.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by William Mallard)