Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has vowed to turn the self-ruled island into an indispensable member of the world as she blamed mainland China for being a “source of conflict” in a scathing national day address.
Echoing US Vice-President Mike Pence’s harsh criticism of Beijing last week, the island’s leader lambasted the mainland as the cause of cross-strait tension and conflicts in the region, at a rally which was broadcast live to mark the 107th birthday of the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official title.
“For some time now, China’s unilateral diplomatic offensive and military coercion have not only harmed cross-strait relations. They have also seriously challenged the status quo of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” she said.
Tsai said Taiwan could cope with Beijing’s challenges by seeking further support from the United States, Japan, Europe and other like-minded countries, and strengthening its strategic significance so that other nations could rally behind it.
“The best way to defend Taiwan is to make it indispensable and irreplaceable to the world,” she said.
Beijing, which considers Taiwan a wayward province that must be brought back to the Chinese fold, if necessary by force, stepped up pressure on Taiwan in 2016 after Tsai, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, refused to accept the “one China” principle.
As part of its strategy to handle diplomatic pressure, “social infiltration” and economic security threats from the mainland, Tsai said Taipei had to strengthen diplomatic ties and establish its “irreplaceable strategic importance”.
She said Taiwan’s advocacy for freedom, democracy and a market economy had helped it become a model for Asian democracy, to develop a strong economy and win the support of like-minded countries.
“The United States is a case in point: the US Congress recently passed many Taiwan-friendly legislative bills. Vice-President Mike Pence also openly condemned China’s suppression of Taiwan’s diplomatic efforts, and lauded our democracy,” she said, referring to the Taiwan Travel Act and the National Defence Authorisation Act that call for high-level exchanges of officials and military cooperation between Taipei and Washington.
Tsai named Japan, the European Union and some of its allies as other sources of support to help strengthen the island’s international presence and role in the world.
In slightly more than two years, Beijing has wooed away five allies from Taiwan, leaving just 17 countries which maintain official ties with Taipei.
Beijing has also sent warships, bombers and fighter planes on training missions circling the island in an attempt to intimidate Tsai’s supporters.
Top mainland officials have also declared that the issue of bringing Taiwan under Beijing’s control cannot be postponed indefinitely and some analysts believe Chinese President Xi Jinping is determined to accomplish that feat during his time in office.
While Tsai would continue to seek stability and progress, she said the government needed to strengthen national security, the economy and the social safety net. That would include boosting the island’s defences with annual increases to the arms budget and stepping up efforts to “prevent foreign powers from infiltrating and subverting our society”.
The president also lashed out at “specific countries” for systematically spreading disinformation, which she said was aimed at “maliciously damaging the information security system, intervening in the election process, or interfering with government operations”. Last month, the Tsai government accused Beijing of spreading fake news in a bid to damage peace and stability, as well as to influence next month’s local government elections.
Tsai’s choice of words, coming a week after Pence’s critical remarks against Beijing, has been seen by observers as the harshest yet on cross-strait ties, compared with her previous national day speeches.
“The tone of her speech on cross-strait issues is quite similar to what Pence said in criticising China and indeed reflects the US position, which should please Washington,” said Wang Kung-yi, a political science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.
But Wang did not expect any further deterioration in cross-strait ties unless Tsai announced the island’s independence.