Taiwan will not bow to pressure from China and will defend its democratic way of life, President Tsai Ing-wen has said in a defiant speech amid heightened tensions over the island.
“The more we achieve, the greater the pressure we face from China,” she said.
Her speech on Taiwan’s National Day came after China’s President Xi Jinping vowed to “fulfil reunification”.
Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, while China views it as a breakaway province.
Beijing has not ruled out the possible use of force to achieve unification.
China sent a record number of military jets into Taiwan’s air defence zone in recent days. Some analysts said the flights could be seen as a warning to Taiwan’s president ahead of Sunday’s National Day.
Ms Tsai was re-elected by a landslide last year on a promise to stand up to Beijing. In her speech on Sunday, she said Taiwan was “standing on democracy’s first line of defence”.
She said the island would not “act rashly” but would bolster its defences to “ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us”.
That path, she said, offered “neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan nor sovereignty” for its 23 million people.
China’s military flights into Taiwan’s air defence zone had seriously affected national security and aviation safety, she said, and the situation was “more complex and fluid than at any other point in the past 72 years”.
Ms Tsai also repeated an offer to talk with Chinese leaders on an equal footing, a suggestion Beijing – which brands her a “separatist” – has so far rejected.
Her speech was followed by a flypast of Taiwanese fighter jets.
One man watching Ms Tsai’s speech told AFP news agency Taiwanese people could not accept unification with China.
“China is presently rather authoritarian. Especially under Xi Jinping, its gotten worse. Reunification is not appropriate now,” another said.