Taiwan will keep bolstering its defences to ensure nobody can force the island to accept the path China has laid down that offers neither freedom nor democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Sunday, in a strong riposte to Beijing.

Claimed by China as its own territory, Taiwan has come under growing military and political pressure to accept Beijing’s rule, including repeated Chinese air force missions in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, to international concern.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday vowed to realize “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.”

LISTEN | As tensions flare between Taiwan and China, what will it take to keep the peace?:

The Current23:57As tensions flare between Taiwan and China, what will it take to keep the peace?

Tensions have been growing between China and Taiwan, with swirling speculation of a conflict that could ultimately involve the U.S. We hear about the mood in Taipei with Wen-Ti Sung, a Taiwan expert and lecturer at the Australian National University; and discuss what might be needed to keep the peace with David Sacks, a research fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations; and Wenran Jiang, a former professor of political science at the University of Alberta and now an advisor with the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy. 23:57

“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,” Tsai added.

“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.”

Situation ‘complex and fluid’

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 is “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 has seriously affected national security and aviation safety.

She is overseeing a military modernization program to bolster its defences and deterrence, including building its own submarines.

The armed forces were a major part of the National Day parade Tsai oversaw, with fighter jets roaring across the skies above the presidential office and truck-mounted missile launchers among other weaponry passing in front of the stage where she sat.

Taiwan stands on the front lines 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.”

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