China’s threats of military action against Taiwan are “absolutely not an option” and will “only push our two sides further from each other,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said Monday. Speaking on Taiwan’s National Day, Tsai said China should not mistake competition within Taiwan’s multiparty democratic political system for weakness and “attempt to divide Taiwanese society.” “I want to make clear to the Beijing authorities that armed confrontation is absolutely not an option for our two sides,” Tsai said.
“Only by respecting the commitment of the Taiwanese people to our sovereignty, democracy, and freedom can there be a foundation for resuming constructive interaction across the Taiwan Strait,” she said.
Fighter jets and a Chinook helicopter displaying Taiwan’s flag flew overhead while the band from Taipei’s First Girls’ High School played hits ranging from the Beatles to Lady Gaga. National Day included international guests such as Palau President Surangel S. Whipps Jr., whose country’s blue and yellow flag flew alongside Taiwan’s red banner with its blue square and white star.
Despite its expression of Taiwan’s endurance as an independent political entity with a thriving democracy and free press, the holiday — generally known as “Double Ten” in Taiwan — commemorates a 1911 uprising by troops in the Chinese city of Wuhan that eventually led to downfall of the Qing Dynasty. China’s Communist Party swept the Nationalist government from the mainland amid civil war in 1949 and continues to claim the island.
Tsai’s speech focused largely on Taiwan’s success in strengthening the social security net for an aging society and continuing to grow its high-tech economy despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
But she also emphasized Taiwan’s boosted efforts to protect itself from China’s threat, both with increased imports of foreign hardware and the revitalization of the domestic arms industry and upgraded training for reserves. Tsai singled out Taiwan’s submarine development program and the delivery of its first domestically developed and constructed 10,000-ton landing platform dock Yushan as particular successes.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has refocused attention on China and methods by which Taiwan can resist a much larger and more powerful foe equipped with the world’s largest standing army and a huge arsenal of missiles.
That was further underscored when China launched threatening military exercises around the island in response to an early August visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Those included sending ships and planes across the midline of the Taiwan Strait that had long been a buffer zone between the sides. China also declared testing zones around the island in some of the world’s most heavily traveled shipping lanes and fired at least four missiles over Taiwan, some of them landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Japan issued diplomatic protests over the missile firings and signed on to a statement from the Group of Seven industrialized countries criticizing the threatening war games.
Despite Beijing’s threats, U.S. and other foreign diplomats have continued to visit Taiwan and Washington’s commitment to Taiwan’s defense has only appeared to grow.
Although Taipei and Washington have no formal diplomatic relations — a concession made to Beijing on the establishment of official ties in 1979 — U.S. law requires that Taipei has the ability to defend itself. It also requires Washington to regard all threats to the island as matters of “grave concern.” That commitment has long rested on the concept of “strategic ambiguity” — that, while Washington wants to see Taiwan’s status resolved peacefully, it doesn’t say whether U.S. forces might be sent in response to a Chinese attack — which has gradually eroded as China’s threat has sharpened.
U.S. President Joe Biden, in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview last month, said that “U.S. forces, U.S. men and women, would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.” The White House said after the interview that U.S. policy toward Taiwan hasn’t changed.
Last month, the Biden administration announced a $1.09 billion arms sale to Taiwan, including $355 million for Harpoon air-to-sea missiles and $85 million for Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, the State Department said.
The largest portion of the sale, however, is a $655 million logistics support package for Taiwan’s surveillance radar program, which provides air defense warnings.
The State Department said the equipment is necessary for Taiwan to “maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” After Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party swept him from the mainland amid civil war in 1949, Taiwan’s flag and other political traditions were transported to Taiwan, a former Japanese colony, as the island was restored to Chinese rule at the end of World War II.
Chiang ruled with an iron fist until his death in 1975, and with the end of martial law in 1987, Taiwan gradually took on the trappings of a modern democracy.
China, however, has refused to acknowledge Taiwanese self-determination, and has refused to acknowledge Tsai’s government or have any formal contacts with it since her first of two terms began in 2016.
Along with exerting military pressure, Beijing has blocked Taiwan from taking part in international health, economic and cultural forums and has banned some imports from the island in apparent violation of World Trade Organization rules