Taiwan says war with China ‘absolutely’ not an option, but bolstering defenses

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War between Taiwan and China is “absolutely not an option,” Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Monday, as she reiterated her willingness to talk to Beijing and also pledged to boost the island’s defenses including with precision missiles.

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Democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, has come under increasing military and political pressure from Beijing, especially after Chinese war games in early August following a Taipei visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Any conflict over Taiwan could drag in the US, Japan and perhaps much of the world, as well as shatter the global economy, especially given Taiwan’s dominant position as a maker of semiconductors used in everything from smartphones and tablets to fighter jets.

Tsai, in her national day speech outside the presidential office under a gray sky, said it was “regrettable” that China had escalated its intimidation and threatened peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and region.

China should not think there is room for compromise in the commitment of Taiwan’s people to democracy and freedom, she said.

“I want to make clear to the Beijing authorities that armed confrontation is absolutely not an option for our two sides. Only by respecting the commitment of the Taiwanese people to our sovereignty, democracy, and freedom can there be a foundation for resuming constructive interaction across the Taiwan Strait.”

There was no immediate reaction from Beijing.

China calls Tsai - re-elected by a landslide in 2020 on a promise to stand up to Beijing - a separatist and refuses to speak to her.

Tsai said, to applause, that her government looked forward to the gradual post-pandemic resumption of healthy and orderly people-to-people exchanges across the strait, which would ease tensions.

But the broad consensus in Taiwan is that its sovereignty and free and democratic way of life must be defended, she added.

“On this point, we have no room for compromise,” she said.

Tsai has made strengthening Taiwan’s defenses a cornerstone of her administration to enable it to mount a more credible deterrence to China, which is ramping up an ambitious modernisation program of its own military.

Taiwan will show the world it is taking responsibility for its own defense, Tsai said.

Taiwan is increasing mass production of precision missiles and high-performance naval vessels, and working to acquire small, highly mobile weapons that will ensure Taiwan is fully prepared to respond to “external military threats”, she added.

The military tensions have raised concerns, especially in the US, about the concentration of chip making in Taiwan.

“I want to specifically emphasize one point to my fellow citizens and the international community, which is that the concentration of the semiconductor sector in Taiwan is not a risk,” she said.

“We will continue to maintain Taiwan’s advantages and capacity in leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing processes, and will help optimize the worldwide restructuring of the semiconductor supply chain, giving our semiconductor firms an even more prominent global role,” she added.

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