Taipei (AFP) — Taiwan’s leader warned Beijing on Monday that the island would never give up its democratic way of life in a National Day speech in which she drew parallels with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The self-ruled democracy’s 23 million people live under the constant threat of invasion by China’s Communist Party, and Moscow’s war in Ukraine has deepened fears that Beijing might attempt something similar with the island.
In her speech, President Tsai Ing-wen compared Moscow’s invasion to Beijing’s goal of one day taking control of Taiwan — which it has vowed to do, by force if necessary.
“We absolutely cannot ignore the challenge that these military expansions pose to the free and democratic world order,” she said.
“The destruction of Taiwan’s democracy and freedom would be a grave defeat for the world’s democracies,” she added.
Taiwan and China split at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
China’s President Xi Jinping has ramped up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taipei in recent years and is a key ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Xi, China’s most authoritarian leader in a generation, is on the cusp of securing a third term later this month and has made taking Taiwan a key plank of his landmark “national rejuvenation” project.
But Tsai said becoming part of China was not acceptable to people in Taiwan, which has become a progressive democracy with a distinct Taiwanese identity.
“During the past 73 years, the people of Taiwan have lived and grown together on this land, and have formed our own strong sense of identity and belonging,” she said.
“The broadest consensus among the Taiwanese people and our various political parties is that we must defend our national sovereignty and our free and democratic way of life. On this point, we have no room for compromise.”
Taiwan is massively outgunned by China, which has the world’s largest military in terms of personnel, and has spent decades expanding its invasion capabilities.
Beijing hosted huge war drills in August around Taiwan to protest against a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Allies have urged Taiwan to adopt an asymmetric “porcupine strategy” that would make it hard for China’s larger military to invade, an argument that has been bolstered by the stout defence that Ukraine’s much smaller forces have put up against Moscow.
Tsai addressed this strategic shift directly in her speech.
“We are ramping up the mass production of precision missiles and high-performance naval vessels,” she said.
“In addition, we are working to acquire various small, highly mobile precision weapons that will help us develop comprehensive asymmetric warfare capabilities, ensuring that Taiwan is fully prepared to respond to external military threats,” she added.
She also reiterated the need to mobilise and train more civilians to work with the military, a strategy that Ukraine successfully adopted after Russia’s invasion.
“Every citizen is a guardian of our nation,” she said.
Taiwan’s national day comes shortly after China’s and the period can be a time of heightened tensions.
China sent more than 150 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in the first 10 days of October last year for what was then a record.
So far this October has been much calmer with 25 incursions, according to an AFP database.
But the total number of flights has risen dramatically with nearly 1,300 recorded ADIZ incursions so far in 2022 compared to 969 for all of last year.