China and Taiwan traded barbed comments Sunday over the future of the island territory, with Beijing pressing for reunification and Taipei engaging in a rare display of its military capabilities after months of Chinese overflights.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said at the territory’s National Day celebration, “We will do our utmost to prevent the status quo from being unilaterally altered,” under which Taiwan operates as an independently governed state even as Beijing claims the island as part of China’s domain.
“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,” Tsai said.
China’s Taiwan Affairs office denounced Tsai’s speech, saying it incited confrontation and distorted facts, closing the path toward the negotiations that Taiwan has sought.
Taiwan displayed its military hardware, including fighter jets, tanks, and both imported and domestically made missile systems. The United States, while for decades embracing a one-China policy recognizing China’s claim to Taiwan, continues to sell military hardware to Taipei, including $5.1 billion in arms sales in 2020.
Tsai, in her speech, emphasized the island’s vibrant democracy in contrast with Beijing’s authoritarian, single-party Communist state. Chinese President Xi Jinping declared on Saturday that reunification with Taiwan “must be realized.”
“No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s strong determination, will and capability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi declared.
In her speech, Tsai said, “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 of Taiwanese show they overwhelmingly favor their current de facto independent state and strongly reject unification with China, even as Beijing has vowed, if necessary, to use military force to bring the island under its control.
In recent days, dozens of Chinese fighter jets have flown over Taiwan’s air defense zone in a show of force, forcing Taiwan to scramble its jets in response. In the last year, China has conducted more than 800 such flights.
The island has looked to strengthen 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.