Taiwan will continue to bolster its defences to ensure it is not forced to accept the path laid down by China, which offers neither freedom nor democracy, president Tsai Ing-wen has said on the island’s national day.
A day earlier China’s president, Xi Jinping, vowed to realise “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 hoped 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 defence 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.
“This is because the path that China has laid out offers neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan, nor sovereignty for our 23 million people.”
Claimed by China as its own territory, Taiwan has come under growing military and political pressure from Beijing, including repeated Chinese air force missions in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone that have heightened international concern.
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 had become “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 defence zone had seriously affected national security and aviation safety.
She is overseeing a military modernisation programme to bolster its defences and deterrence, including building its own submarines.
Taiwan stands on the frontlines 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.”