Taiwan says war with China is not an ‘absolute’ option, but it strengthens defenses

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said on Monday that war between Taiwan and China was “not at all an option”, as she reiterated her desire for talks with Beijing and also pledged to bolster the island’s defenses, including precision missiles.

China again rejected its latest offer, saying that the island is an inalienable part of its territory.

Democratic Taiwan, to which China claims it belongs, has come under increasing military and political pressure from Beijing, especially after China’s war games in early August following a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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A conflict over Taiwan could drag the United States, Japan, and possibly much of the world, as well as wreck the global economy, especially given Taiwan’s dominant position as a maker of semiconductors used in everything from smartphones and tablets to fighter jets.

In her National Day speech outside the presidential office under a gray sky, Tsai said it was “unfortunate” that China had escalated its intimidation and threatened peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the region.

She said China should not think that there is room for compromise in the Taiwan people’s commitment to democracy and freedom.

“I want to make it clear to the Beijing authorities that armed confrontation is never an option for our two sides. Only by respecting the Taiwan people’s commitment to our sovereignty, democracy and freedom can there be a basis for resuming constructive interaction across the Taiwan Strait.”

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said that Taiwan is part of China, “it has no president and is not an independent country.”

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“The root cause of the current tensions in the Taiwan Strait lies in the stubborn insistence of the DPP authorities on Taiwan independence and secession,” she said, referring to Taiwan’s ruling party. “We are willing to create ample space for peaceful reunification, but we will not leave any space for Taiwan independence and secession activities.”

China describes Tsai — who was re-elected overwhelmingly in 2020 on a promise to stand up to Beijing — as a separatist and refuses to talk to her.

Tsai’s speech comes less than a week before the opening of the ruling Communist Party of China congress in Beijing, where President Xi Jinping is widely expected to win a third five-year term.

An official familiar with Tsai’s thinking, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters that the president was looking to “clearly communicate her position” to the world and to Beijing.

“Resolutely standing up to the status quo of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is the main focus of Tsai’s comments on cross-Strait relations this year,” the official said, adding that this is the world’s expectation and responsibility for both Taipei and Beijing.

There is no place for concessions

To applause, Tsai said her government is looking forward to the gradual post-pandemic resumption of healthy and orderly exchanges between people across the strait, which will ease tensions.

She added that the broad consensus in Taiwan is that its sovereignty and free and democratic way of life should be defended.

“At this point, we have no room for compromise,” she said.

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Tsai made strengthening Taiwan’s defenses a cornerstone of her administration to enable it to establish a more credible deterrent to China, which is ramping up an ambitious modernization program for its military.

Tsai said Taiwan will show the world that it takes responsibility for its defense.

It added that Taiwan is increasing mass production of precision missiles and high-performance naval vessels, and is working to acquire highly mobile small arms that ensure Taiwan is fully prepared to respond to “external military threats.”

Military tensions have raised concerns, especially in the United States, about the concentration of the chip industry in Taiwan.

“I specifically want to stress one point to my fellow citizens and the international community, which is that concentrating the semiconductor sector in Taiwan is not a risk,” she said.

“We will continue to maintain Taiwan’s advantages and capacity in leading semiconductor manufacturing operations, and help improve the global restructuring of the semiconductor supply chain, giving semiconductor companies a more prominent global role,” she added.

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(Reporting by Imo Lee and Ben Blanchard) Additional reporting by Martin Pollard in Beijing. Editing by Shree Navaratnam and Jerry Doyle

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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