TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s president on Sunday vowed to defend the island from China’s rising pressure for reunification, after a week of unprecedented tensions with Beijing.
Speaking at the island’s National Day celebrations, a rare show of Taiwanese defense 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,” President Tsai said.
“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,” the Taiwanese leader added.
China claims Taiwan as part of its national territory although the island has been self-ruled since it split from the communist-ruled mainland in 1949 after a long civil war.
Tsai emphasized 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,” Tsai said.
A choir of singers from Taiwan’s various indigenous tribes opened the ceremony in front of the Presidential Office Building in the center of the capital, Taipei.
Surveys show Taiwanese overwhelmingly favor their current de-facto independent state and strongly rejects unification with China, which has vowed to bring the island under its control, by military force if necessary.
Tsai rarely singles out China in her public speeches, but in this speech acknowledged the increasing tensions that Taiwan faces as Chinese military harassment intensified in the past year. Since September of last year, China has flown fighter jets more than 800 times towards Taiwan.
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 U.S. in the face of these perceived threats.
“But the more we achieve, the greater the pressure we face from China,” Tsai said in her speech.
Following the address, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense showed off a range of weaponry including missile launchers and armored vehicles while fighters jets and helicopters soared overhead. These included a formation of F-16, Indigenous Defense Fighters and Mirage 2000′s, which left wide white contrails in their wake.
The show of air power was followed by a group of CM32 tanks, followed later by trucks carrying missile systems.
Tsai said Taiwan wanted to contribute to peaceful regional development, even as the situation becomes “more tense and complex” in the Indo-Pacific.
On Saturday, China’s leader Xi Jinping said that reunification with Taiwan “must be realized”, while claiming “peaceful” reunification was possible.
“No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s strong determination, will and capability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi declared.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement Sunday night in response to Tsai’s speech, saying that Tsai’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party, is “the source of turbulence and tension in cross-strait relations, and the biggest threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
The parade Sunday in Taipei also featured Taiwan’s Olympic athletes who won medals at the Tokyo summer 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.
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.