Taiwan needs to work hard to ‘control own destiny’, president to say

By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan needs to work hard to “control its own destiny” and is determined to protect itself with its own defence programme, President Tsai Ing-wen will say in a major speech on Tuesday.

Democratic Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, has come under increasing military and political pressure from Beijing, including two sets of Chinese war games near the island since August of last year.

According to an outline of her national day speech on Tuesday, as described to Reuters by an official briefed on its contents, Tsai will emphasise that since taking office in 2016, her government has “always kept its promises and maintained the status quo” with China, not provoking, not taking risks, and not succumbing under pressure.

Tsai, who leaves office next year as she cannot stand again for president after two terms in power, has overseen a major military modernisation programme, including domestically-developed submarines, the first of which was unveiled last month.

In her speech, outside the presidential office in central Taipei, where there will also be a military parade, Tsai will say that the submarines have demonstrated Taiwan’s determination to protect itself and decide its own future and destiny.

“We must continue to move forward in the face of challenges, and if we don’t move forward, we will go backwards; if we don’t work hard, we won’t be able to control our own future and destiny,” she will say.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, which routinely condemns Tsai as a dangerous separatist, did not answer calls seeking comment outside of office hours.

Tsai has said only Taiwan’s people can decide their future, rejecting China’s offer of peaceful “reunification” with Taiwan under a “one country, two systems” model of autonomy.

All mainstream Taiwanese political parties have rejected that proposal and it has almost no public support, according to opinion polls. China has also never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.

Tsai’s speech will come less than 100 days before Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary elections in January.

Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, which traditionally favours close relations with Beijing, has lambasted Tsai for taking Taiwan to the brink of war by being deliberately provocative with China.

Tsai’s deputy, Vice President William Lai, is the frontrunner to win the presidential election, according to polls. Lai has pledged to follow Tsai’s China and defence policies.

Despite the rise in Chinese military drills around Taiwan, no shots have been fired in anger, and Tsai has repeatedly stressed her steady hand in dealing with the actions of Beijing, which has rebuffed multiple offers of talks from her.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard, Editing by Angus MacSwan)