TAIPEI • President Tsai Ing-wen has vowed to defend Taiwan's freedom and democracy amid growing pressure from giant neighbour China, using a National Day speech to warn that the self-ruled island would not bow to pressure.
China considers Taiwan to be a wayward province split from the mainland after a civil war in 1949, and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
Relations with Beijing have deteriorated sharply since Ms Tsai, who leads the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, took office last year, with China suspecting she wants to push for the island's formal independence, a red line for Beijing.
China has cut off a regular dialogue mechanism with Taiwan, ramped up military drills around the island and stepped up international pressure to limit Taiwan's diplomatic footprint.
Ms Tsai, who has pledged to maintain peace with China, said her government was still seeking breakthroughs in ties with Beijing and promised consistent and stable policies.
"We need to remember democracy and freedom were rights obtained through all of Taiwan people's countless efforts," Ms Tsai said.
"Therefore, we need to use all our power to defend Taiwan's democratic and freedom values and lifestyle."
Ms Tsai's speech came a week before China holds its twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress, where President Xi Jinping, who has taken a robust approach to territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, will cement his grip on power.
Beijing has ramped up pressure on Ms Tsai by sailing its sole aircraft carrier and flying jets near the island during military exercises, as well as blocking Taipei from participating in key international events.
In her 20-minute address yesterday, Ms Tsai noted Taiwan is committed to build its own military jets and submarines, and should be prepared for increasing cyber security and espionage risks.
"Although we are strengthening our military capabilities, we do not seek war," she said.
"We remain committed to maintaining peace and stability both in the Taiwan Strait and across the region."
Ms Tsai has also sought to give Beijing a roadmap where its "goodwill" can be extended, which in turn could give her a chance to reciprocate and rein in the more independence-leaning hardliners on the island.
"I have repeatedly said, our goodwill doesn't change, our promises don't change; we won't walk on the old path of confrontation, but we won't bow to pressure," she said.
Ms Tsai reiterated the importance of implementing the island's new "southbound" policy of forging closer ties with countries in the region, saying Taiwan was seeking to find a new position in the international community.
Taiwan has stepped up efforts to reduce its reliance on China and broaden engagement with 18 countries across the region under the policy, seeking to deepen economic and political ties.
"In the face of rapid change in the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan is already prepared to play an even more important role in the region's prosperity and stability," she said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE