“Although we are strengthening our military capabilities, we do not seek war,” said Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen during last week’s National Day speech.
Meanwhile, Beijing has ramped up pressure on Tsai by sailing its sole aircraft carrier near the island as well as blocking Taipei from participating in key international events.
Tsai’s remarks came on the eve of this week’s 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress, which will almost certainly cement President Xi Jinping as the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation. Part of his mandate will be to thaw frozen cross-strait relations. China has repeatedly said Tsai must acknowledge both sides are part of “one China” for dialogue to resume, but the Taiwan leader has refused to do so.
Cross-strait relations have rapidly deteriorated since Tsai took office last May, with Beijing cutting all official communications with Taipei as it does not trust her traditionally pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). China still sees self-governing Taiwan as a wayward province to be brought back into its fold, by force if necessary.
However, fiercely independent Taipei will not bow to pressure.
The irony here is that Beijing sees any calls for Taiwan independence as a challenge to its power, even though the island today is a thriving democracy.
Taiwan, in remaining committed to peace and stability across the region, offers an example Asean member-states in how to deal with an increasingly assertive China.
Southeast Asian countries are also being pressured by Beijing, most notably in maritime disputes stemming from China’s claim over almost all of the South China Sea, backed up by its programme of island-building.
Asean states such as the Philippines should follow Taiwan’s example and beef up their military while observing the rule of law for peaceful coexistence.
Jumel G Estranero