TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday that democracy had thrived on the island despite increased Chinese pressure, and vowed that its people would remain “free for generations”.
China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, and has in recent years stepped up military and political pressure against Tsai’s administration.
Taiwan sees near-daily Chinese warplanes incursions around the island, while on the international stage, Beijing has poached its diplomatic allies in a bid to isolate it.
In a National Day speech, Tsai said it was her duty to “safeguard our national sovereignty and the democratic and free way of life” of Taiwan’s 23 million people.
“In the midst of tremendous internal and external pressures, Taiwan’s democracy has grown and thrived… and we have emerged with even greater resilience,” she said.
“To protect Taiwan’s democracy is to protect the universal value of democracy.”
“The Taiwanese people,” she added, “will be a democratic and free people for generations to come.”
Tsai also appeared to strike a conciliatory tone with Beijing, saying that Taiwan seeks “peaceful co-existence, with free, unrestricted, and unburdened interactions between people across the strait”.
“We are willing to take the Taiwan public consensus as a basis… with a process of democratic dialogue and focusing on maintaining the status quo to develop with the Beijing authorities a mutually acceptable foundation for interaction and a path to peaceful co-existence,” she said.
She also reiterated that peace “is the only option across the strait”.
“Maintaining the status quo, as the largest common denominator for all sides, is the critical key to ensuring peace,” she said.
Since Tsai was elected in 2016, relations with Beijing have deteriorated, due to her and her administration’s refusal to accept that Taiwan belongs to China.
In the past year, Beijing has run massive war games around the island, carrying out simulations of a blockade that have raised the worries of Taipei — as well as key allies such as the United States.
Tsai is in her final year of office, unable to run for president again due to the island’s two-term limit.
Taiwan will hold national elections in January, with Tsai’s deputy Lai Ching-te the current front runner for the poll. Lai has previously described himself as a “pragmatic Taiwan independence worker”.
His opponents — Hou Yu-ih from the China-friendly Kuomintang party and Ko Wen-je from the smaller Taiwan People’s Party — seek to promote closer ties with Beijing.
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