Speaking at the island’s National Day celebrations, a rare show of Taiwanese defence capabilities in the annual parade underlined Tsai Ing-wen’s promise to resist Chinese military threats.
“We will do our utmost to prevent the status quo from being unilaterally altered,” Ms Tsai said on Sunday.
“We will continue to bolster our national defence 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,” the Taiwanese leader added.
China claims Taiwan as part of its national territory although the island has been self-ruled since it split from the communist-ruled mainland in 1949 after a long civil war.
Ms Tsai emphasised the island’s vibrant democracy in contrast with Beijing’s deeply authoritarian, single-party Communist state.
“The path that China has laid out offers neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan, nor sovereignty for our 23 million people,” Ms Tsai said.
A choir of singers from Taiwan’s various indigenous tribes opened the ceremony in front of the Presidential Office Building in the centre of the capital, Taipei.
Surveys show Taiwanese overwhelmingly favour their current de-facto independent state and strongly rejects unification with China, which has vowed to bring the island under its control, by military force if necessary.
Ms Tsai rarely singles out China in her public speeches, but in this speech acknowledged the increasing tensions that Taiwan faces as Chinese military harassment intensified in the past year. Since September of last year, China has flown fighter jets more than 800 times towards Taiwan.
Since last Friday, China has sent a record-breaking number of fighter jets towards international airspace close to Taiwan.
The island has strengthened its unofficial ties with countries such as Japan, Australia and the US in the face of these perceived threats.
Last week former Australia prime minister Tony Abbott visited Taiwan in a private capacity and targeted Beijing in a speech he gave there.
He branded President Xi Jinping as “the new red emperor” as he spoke at a national security forum attended by Taiwan’s president and foreign minister.
In a statement, Chinese diplomats responded by branding Mr Abbott a failed and pitiful politician”.
Following Ms Tai’s address on Sunday, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence showed off a range of weaponry including missile launchers and armoured vehicles while fighters jets and helicopters soared overhead. These included a formation of F-16, Indigenous Defence Fighters and Mirage 2000′s, which left wide white contrails in their wake.
The show of air power was followed by a group of CM32 tanks, followed later by trucks carrying missile systems.
Ms Tsai said Taiwan wanted to contribute to peaceful regional development, even as the situation becomes “more tense and complex” in the Indo-Pacific.
On Saturday, China’s leader Xi Jinping said that reunification with Taiwan “must be realised”, while claiming “peaceful” reunification was possible.
“No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s strong determination, will and capability to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr Xi declared.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement on Sunday night in response to Ms Tsai’s speech, saying that Ms Tsai’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party, is “the source of turbulence and tension in cross-strait relations, and the biggest threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
The parade Sunday in Taipei also featured Taiwan’s Olympic athletes who won medals at the Tokyo summer games, as well as public health officials, including those who staff a daily press conference about the pandemic, wearing their distinctive neon yellow-edged vests.