Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen warns against Chinese ‘military expansion’

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen at a military ceremony in Taipei on Dec 28, 2017.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen at a military ceremony in Taipei on Dec 28, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE/TAIWAN PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE

TAOYUAN, Taiwan  (AFP) – Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen warned on Friday (Dec 29) against what she called China’s “military expansion” as it ups drills around the island, but said she did not believe the two rivals would go to war.

Beijing has stepped up pressure on Taiwan and relations have become increasingly frosty since Tsai took office in May last year, as she refuses to acknowledge Taiwan is part of “one China”.

China views self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory, to be reunified at some point.

Tsai warned that China’s frequent air and naval drills showed that “its intentions for military expansion in the region are getting more and more obvious”.

According to Taiwan’s defence ministry, Chinese warplanes conducted 25 drills around Taiwan between August 2016 and mid-December this year.

The latest known drill took place on Dec  20 when several Chinese planes, including fighters and bombers, passed through the Bashi Channel south of Taiwan to the Pacific and back.

Earlier this year, China sent its only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, through the Taiwan Strait during a drill as a show of strength, but it did not enter Taiwanese waters.

Some military experts have warned the increased drills may suggest China is gearing up to take over Taiwan by force.

But Tsai said she believed Chinese leaders were “rational decision makers”.

“I think the option of taking military action against Taiwan is not part of their decision-making thinking at this time,” Tsai told an end-of-year press conference.

“Cross-strait issues definitely cannot be resolved by military force. (They) should rely on peaceful means to deal with different opinions and positions,” she added.

Chinese jets flew over the Sea of Japan (East Sea) earlier this month, prompting South Korea and Japan to scramble their jets.

China’s air force said then it was the first time its aircraft had flown through the Tsushima Strait between South Korea and Japan.

There has also been international concern over large-scale land reclamation by China around disputed reefs in the South China Sea.

Beijing claims nearly all of the sea and has been turning reefs in the Spratly and Paracel chains into islands, installing military facilities and equipment in the area where it has conflicting claims with neighbours.

Tsai pledged on Friday to strengthen Taiwan’s homegrown defence.

“Taiwan cannot rely on others to defend its sovereignty,” she said.

“Taiwan is not big, but our determination to defend our country and home is resolute.” Tsai added Taiwan was still committed to maintaining the “status quo” with China.

Beijing cut off all official communication with her government shortly after she took office.