Taiwan’s president has called for the continuation of the political status quo in a forthright speech which acknowledged rising pressure from China.
sai Ing-wen also firmly rejected Chinese military coercion, a stance driven home by a rare demonstration of Taiwan’s defence capabilities in a parade on its National Day.
A choir of singers from Taiwan’s various indigenous tribes sang to open the ceremony in front of the Presidential Office Building in the centre of Taipei which was built by the Japanese who ruled the island as a colony for 500 years until the end of the second World War.
“We will do our utmost to prevent the status quo from being unilaterally altered,” Ms Tsai said.
China claims Taiwan as part of its national territory, to be brought until its control by military force if necessary, although the island is self-ruled.
“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,” Ms Tsai said.
“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.”
Surveys show the Taiwanese overwhelmingly favour their current de-facto independent state and strongly reject unification with China. Taiwan has evolved into a vibrant democracy while China remains a deeply authoritarian, single-party Communist state.
Ms Tsai, who rarely directly singles out China in her public speeches, acknowledged the increasingly tense situation that Taiwan faces as Chinese military harassment has intensified in the past year. Since September last year, China has flown fighter jets towards Taiwan more than 800 times.
The island has strengthened its unofficial ties with countries like Japan, Australia and the US in the face of these tensions. “But the more we achieve, the greater the pressure we face from China,” she said.
The president said Taiwan wants to contribute to the peaceful development in the region even as with the situation in the Indo-Pacific “becoming more tense and complex”.
On Saturday, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, said that reunification with Taiwan “must be realised” and that peaceful reunification is in interests of the entire nation, including the Taiwanese people.
“No-one should under-estimate the Chinese people’s strong determination, will and capability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Since last Friday, China has sent a record-breaking number of fighter jets towards international airspace close to Taiwan.
Following Ms Tsai’s address, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence showed off a range of its weaponry and defence capabilities.
First, several assault helicopters flew across the sky. Then air force pilots flew a formation of F-16, Indigenous Defence Fighters and Mirage 2000s, leaving white contrails in their wake.
They were followed by a group of CM32 tanks, and trucks carrying the Thunderbolt 2000 missile system. More missiles followed, such as the domestically-made Hsiung Feng III, a supersonic missile system, and communications vehicles which help guide the weapons to their targets.
The parade also featured Taiwan’s Olympic medal-winning athletes, as well as public health officials, including those who staff a daily press conference about the coronavirus pandemic, wearing their distinctive neon yellow-edged vests.
Ms Tsai also called on other legislative parties to put aside politics in order to push for the reform of the island’s constitution, a document created by the then-ruling Nationalist Party in 1947 before it lost power and fled China ahead of the Communist takeover two years later.