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Radio Free Asia

Taiwan marks its national day with warning over threats from China

President Tsai Ing-wen calls for talks with Beijing on basis of 'equality.'

By Raymond Cheng for RFA Cantonese, and by Mia Ping-chieh Chen for RFA Mandarin 2022.10.10 -- Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday called for talks with Beijing on an equal footing and warned the mainland not to misjudge the self-governing island's willingness to defend itself.

In a speech to mark Taiwan's National Day, Tsai offered to work with Beijing to ensure peace in the Taiwan Strait, but on the basis of "equality and mutual respect" as a sovereign government, terms that are highly unlikely to be accepted by Beijing.

"Russia continues its war against Ukraine, while China's military activity in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait undermines peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region," Tsai said in her Oct. 10 holiday address marking the start of a 1911 uprising that led to the establishment of the Republic of China the following year.

"We absolutely cannot ignore the challenge that these military expansions pose to the free and democratic world order. These developments are inextricably connected with Taiwan," she said.

"We cannot leave things to chance," Tsai warned. "Instead, we must stand up for our democracy, and prepare prudently and sufficiently to respond to any possible contingency."

To that end, the Taiwanese president said her government was ramping up production of precision missiles and high-performance naval vessels, as well as acquiring "small, highly mobile precision weapons" to develop asymmetric warfare capabilities.

"The Beijing authorities should not make any misjudgment on account of Taiwan's vigorous democratic system," she said.

"They must not mistake that there is room for compromise in the Taiwanese people's commitment to democracy and freedom, and thus attempt to divide Taiwanese society by exploiting the fierce competition between our political parties."

Democratic values

Tsai said Taiwan's protection was key to upholding regional stability and democratic values.

"The destruction of Taiwan's democracy and freedom would be a grave defeat for the world's democracies," Tsai told the island of 23 million who opinion polls show have no wish to be ruled by Beijing.

Tsai's speech came as Chinese President Xi Jinping gears up to hold his party's five-yearly national congress, following years of increasingly hard-line rhetoric and military exercises and incursions targeting Taiwan.

Last week, Taiwan's representative to the United States, Bi-khim Hsiao, told a National Day reception that China's military exercises are becoming an increasing danger to the people of Taiwan.

"The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has recently begun more dangerous activities around Taiwan that are a threat both to us and to regional security," she said, adding that the ratcheting up of tensions was in addition to ongoing cyber attacks and political interference from Beijing.

"Taiwan will resolutely defend our sovereignty and security," Hsiao said. "We won't provoke, but we will not succumb to coercion."

Speaking at an Asia Society event in Los Angeles on Friday, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also said cross-strait tensions had been exacerbated by the Biden administration's moves to scrap the longstanding U.S. policy of "strategic ambiguity" over whether it would come to the defense of Taiwan in the case of an attack by Beijing.

Reopening exchanges

Rudd said the "assumption that Uncle Sam is simply there with a universal, unqualified strategic guarantee" to defend Taiwan may lead to a "no-holds-barred primary" in Tsai's ruling party next year, with candidates tussling to be more anti-Beijing ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

"It's time for Taiwan to begin thinking about opening up lines of political dialogue with the mainland again," he said, calling for the United States to take a more background role.

"At present, this relationship is so raw, it is so non-insulated, it is so volatile that whenever there is a problem or a crisis it immediately defaults to the U.S-China relationship, and immediately defaults to the military channel, because there's no political channel anymore," he said.

China Studies associate professor Chang Wu-ueh, of Taiwan's Tamkang University, said now that Taiwan has eased quarantine restrictions on inbound passengers, there could be a growing number of non-government exchanges and contact between the mainland and Taiwan, which could help to ease tensions.

But he said Tsai's offer of negotiations was unlikely to be well-received in Beijing.

"Non-governmental exchanges, once the border controls are relaxed, are a more feasible option at this stage," Chang told RFA. "It also demonstrates goodwill to the other side."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie. Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns.

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