TAIPEI: Taiwan won’t back down in the face of “aggressive threats” from China, the self-ruling island’s leader Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday, comparing growing pressure from Beijing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Her comments came days after the conclusion of the twice-a-decade congress of China’s ruling Communist Party, during which it upped its long-standing threat to annex the island it considers its own territory by force, if necessary.
The party added a line in its constitution on “resolutely opposing and deterring” Taiwan’s independence and “resolutely implementing the policy of ‘one country, two systems,'” the formula by which it plans to govern the island in the future.
The blueprint has already been put in place in the former United Kingdom colony of Hong Kong, which has seen its democratic system, civil liberties and judicial independence decimated.
Tsai told an international gathering of pro-democracy activists in the capital Taipei that democracies and liberal societies were facing the greatest host of challenges since the Cold War.
“Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a prime example. It shows an authoritarian regime will do whatever it takes to achieve expansionism,” she said.
“The people of Taiwan are all too familiar with such aggression. In recent years, Taiwan has been confronted by increasingly aggressive threats from China,” Tsai added, listing military intimidation, cyberattacks and economic coercion as among them.
The rising Chinese threat has spurred calls on Taiwan for additional defense investments and a lengthening of the term of national service required of all Taiwanese men.
Tsai was speaking at the opening ceremony of the World Movement for Democracy’s Steering Committee, which is led by 2021 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate Maria Ressa of the Philippines.
Taiwan and China split amid a civil war in 1949, and Taipei enjoys strong United States military and political support despite the lack of formal military ties.
Despite having just 14 official diplomatic allies, Taiwan has drawn increasing backing from major nations, including Japan, Australia, the US, Canada and across Europe.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in early August enraged Beijing, which responded with military exercises seen as a rehearsal of a blockade of the island.
On Monday, Tsai met with a German parliamentary delegation focusing on human rights, who expressed concern about how Taiwan would handle threats from China.
“Taiwan is really facing military threats,” delegation head Peter Heidt said. “From Germany’s point of view, changes to the cross-strait status quo, if any, must be based on peaceful means. Also, these changes must be made after both sides have reached a consensus.”
Also on Tuesday, Taiwanese Premier You Si-kun met with Ukrainian lawmaker Kira Rudik and Lithuanian politician Zygimantas Pavilionis. Taiwan has strongly condemned the Russian invasion and at least one Taiwanese citizen is reportedly fighting with Ukrainian forces.
The Ukrainian conflict has focused new attention on if and when China might launch military action against Taiwan, given that a solid majority of Taiwanese reject Beijing’s calls for “peaceful reunification.”
A full-scale invasion across the 160-kilometer (100-mile) -wide Taiwan Strait remains a daunting prospect for China despite its recent massive military expansion, especially in its naval and missile forces.
However, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s securing of another five-year term in office has some observers speculating he may be looking to move up the schedule for bringing Taiwan under China’s control.
Among personnel changes at China’s congress that concluded last Saturday, Gen. He Weidong was elevated to second vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. He was formerly head of the Eastern Theater Command, which would be primarily responsible for operations against Taiwan should hostilities break out.