World

Taiwan says it will bolster defenses in response to China’s bullying

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen vowed Sunday to fight any attempt by China to annex or militarily absorb Taiwan, asserting that the island democracy will strengthen its defenses in response to the most aggressive posturing by Beijing in decades.

“We will continue to bolster our national defense and demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves in order to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us,” Ms. Tsai said in a speech marking Taiwan‘s national day.

“There should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure,” she said, according to Reuters.

The remarks came a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping made global headlines by vowing that China will find a way to achieve “reunification” with Taiwan.

Mr. Xi‘s vow, after weeks of increased Chinese military posturing toward Taiwan, has triggered mounting concern in Washington and around the world that China may be on the verge of trying to use force to absorb Taiwan. Such concerns have swirled in recent years, but have spiked amid recent provocations by Beijing.

Growing waves of Chinese fighter jets have flown in formation into Taiwanese airspace over the past 10 days. On Oct. 4, a record 56 Chinese aircraft were spotted making such incursions.

The situation is vexing for the Biden administration. When pressed for a response to China‘s provocations, President Biden has sought to downplay concerns, saying he has spoken with Mr. Xi, who has agreed to abide by the “Taiwan agreement.”

“We made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement,” Mr. Biden said.

Taiwan is an island state located 100 miles off the coast of China. During a civil war in 1949, Nationalist forces battling Communists on the Chinese mainland fled to the island and created a government called the Republic of China.

The Taiwan government has remained in an ambiguous status after the administration of President Richard M. Nixon negotiated the formal diplomatic recognition of the Communist government on the Chinese mainland, but left unresolved the status of the island, whose diplomatic standing was downgraded.

U.S.-China ties have been strained over the years amid differing interpretations regarding the status of Taiwan within the “one-China policy” outlined in diplomatic communiques between Washington and Beijing. U.S. law provides that Washington will help Taiwan arm itself, but does not explicitly guarantee that American forces will intervene should China attempt to invade Taiwan, despite it being a U.S.-aligned democracy and force of free market capitalism in East Asia.

The current tensions are likely to create a growing headache for the Biden administration, following reports in recent days that the U.S. has secretly sent teams of special operations soldiers and Marines to Taiwan to train military forces.

About two dozen troops have been conducting training missions with Taiwan‘s ground forces for at least a year in an effort to shore up the island’s defenses against an invasion by Beijing, according to a report last week from The Wall Street Journal.

China, meanwhile, has been on a military spending spree for years, rapidly increasing its fleet of warships and combat aircraft, including strategic bombers and jet fighters. Beijing has long claimed sovereignty over Taiwan, and Mr. Xi has previously vowed to take control of the island by force if necessary.

In a January 2019 speech marking the 40th anniversary of Beijing’s efforts to improve ties with Taiwan, Mr. Xi urged the Taiwanese to submit to the reality that they “must and will be” reunited with China.

“We make no promise to abandon the use of force, and retain the option of taking all necessary measures,” the Chinese president said in the speech to military officials and others gathered at the time in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

• Bill Gertz and Mike Glenn contributed to this report.

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