Taiwan will not “bow to pressure” from China for reunification, President Tsai Ing-wen said in a speech Sunday before a parade and military ceremony marking Taiwan’s National Day.

The island will continue to develop and invest in its defensive capabilities, Tsai said, “to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us” — a path she said “offers neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan, nor sovereignty for our 23 million people.”

China sees Taiwan, separated from it by about 100 miles across the Taiwan Strait, as a breakaway province. Beijing has threatened to take control — by force if necessary — were Taiwan to move toward formal independence.

The United States sells arms to Taiwan and supports its calls for a greater role in the global community, but has for decades refused to say whether it would send its military to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, under a policy known as “strategic ambiguity.”

The United States, like most countries, does not recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. It adheres to the one-China policy, which states that there is only one China and acknowledges the Chinese point of view that Taiwan is part of it.

But in recent years, as tensions have risen between the United States and China, Washington has made moves to bolster its support for Taiwan as a bulwark against Beijing.

U.S. troops have been stationed in Taiwan to train the island’s military for at least a year, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing unnamed U.S. government officials. China’s Foreign Ministry responded angrily to the report but with boilerplate language, including that “China will take all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Now Taiwan “finds itself in a situation that is more complex and fluid than at any other point in the past 72 years,” Tsai said Sunday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday vowed to achieve what he called “the reunification of the motherland by peaceful means.”

“Compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should stand on the right side of history and join hands to achieve China’s complete unification,” Xi said during an event to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the revolution that overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty in 1911.

Some analysts view the Chinese military drills near the island as Beijing catering to domestic nationalists, or provocation aimed at Washington, but Taiwanese officials believe it shows China is ramping up its capabilities to invade their island in the next few years.

After a week of tensions, Chinese President Xi Jinping did not directly address international concerns over use of force in his talk about Taiwan on Oct. 9. (Reuters)

The 1911 Revolution led to the establishment of a Chinese nationalist government known as the Republic of China. After World War II, the Chinese Communist Party defeated ROC forces, which retreated to Taiwan and took over the island, whose official name is the Republic of China. The Chinese Communist Party never took control of the island.

“The historic mission of achieving the complete unification of our country must be realized, and can be realized,” Xi added.

Xi reiterated his support for Taiwanese reunification under the same “one country, two systems” model that allowed Hong Kong to be part of China but function under different laws and norms for decades after the end of British colonial rule. That approach has collapsed in recent years as Beijing has moved to exert direct control over Hong Kong, crush civil society and erode once-autonomous institutions.

In response to Xi’s speech, Taiwan’s presidential office said most Taiwanese reject that model and argued that developments in Hong Kong show how “one country, two systems” can turn on a dime.

On Sunday, at an event marking the same revolution, Tsai called on the Taiwanese people to renew their commitment “that the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China should not be subordinate to each other.”

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen responded on Oct. 9 to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vow to see a “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan. (Reuters)

Tsai, who warned recently in Foreign Affairs that “if Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system,” has sought to characterize the struggle for Taiwan’s freedom from China as a proxy battle for the broader future of global democracy, at a time when Western powers are struggling to come to terms with the rise of China.

The island is “standing on democracy’s first line of defense,” Tsai said in her speech Sunday. “Taiwan is willing to do its part to contribute to the peaceful development of the region.”

“We hope for an easing of cross-strait relations and will not act rashly, but there should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure,” she said.

Adela Suliman and Shibani Mahtani contributed to this report.

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