Taiwan’s president has vowed to defend the island from China’s increasing pressure for reunification, following a week of unprecedented tensions with Beijing.
peaking at the country’s National Day celebrations yesterday, a rare show of Taiwanese defence capabilities in the annual parade underlined Tsai Ing-wen’s promise to resist Chinese military threats.
“We will do our utmost to prevent the status quo from being unilaterally altered,” she said.
“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.”
China claims Taiwan as part of its national territory, although the island has been self-ruled since it split from the Communist-run mainland in 1949 after a long civil war.
Ms Tsai emphasised the island’s vibrant democracy in contrast with Beijing’s deeply authoritarian, single-party Communist state.
“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,” she said.
A choir of singers from Taiwan’s various indigenous tribes opened the ceremony in front of the Presidential Office Building in the centre of the capital, Taipei.
Surveys show Taiwanese overwhelmingly favour their current de-facto independent state and strongly reject unification with China, which has vowed to bring the island under its control, by military force if necessary.
Ms Tsai rarely singles out China in her public speeches, but yesterday she acknowledged the increasing tensions that Taiwan has faced as Chinese military harassment intensified in the past year.
Since September last year, China has flown fighter jets towards Taiwan more than 800 times.
Since last Friday, China has sent a record-breaking number of fighter jets towards international airspace close to Taiwan.
The island has strengthened its unofficial ties with countries like Japan, Australia and the US in the face of these perceived threats.
“But the more we achieve, the greater the pressure we face from China,” Ms Tsai said in her speech.
Following the address, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence showed off a range of weaponry including missile launchers and armoured vehicles, while fighter jets and helicopters soared overhead.
These included a formation of F-16, Indigenous Defence Fighters and Mirage 2000s, which left wide white contrails in their wake.
The show of air power was followed by a group of CM32 tanks, and later by trucks carrying missile systems.
Ms Tsai said Taiwan wanted to contribute to peaceful regional development, even as the situation had become “more tense and complex” in the Indo-Pacific.
On Saturday, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, said reunification with Taiwan “must be realised”, while claiming that “peaceful” reunification was possible.
“No-one should underestimate the Chinese people’s strong determination, will and capability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he declared.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement yesterday in response to Ms Tsai’s speech, saying that her party, the Democratic Progressive Party, had been “the source of turbulence and tension in cross-strait relations, and the biggest threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.
Yesterday’s parade in Taipei also featured Taiwan’s Olympic athletes who won medals at the Tokyo Games, as well as public health officials, including those who staff a daily press conference about the 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.