Taiwan says it will not rely on others for defence

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen gives a speech at a navy base in Penghu Islands, Taiwan, on Aug 30.
PHOTO: Reuters

WASHINGTON – Taiwan will not rely on others for its defence, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday (Oct 5), while welcoming a US commitment to the democratically governed island's security during what she called Chinese encroachment on its sovereignty.

Tsai's remarks, pre-recorded and delivered to a US audience at a Washington forum, come after US President Joe Biden pledged in September to defend Taiwan in the event of any "unprecedented attack" by China.

In her address to the Washington-based Global Taiwan Institute think tank, Tsai thanked the Biden administration and the US Congress for upholding the US commitment to Taiwan's security and for recent US military arms sales.

"But we will not depend on others to come to our own defence," Tsai said.

"That is why I want to reiterate that Taiwan is fully committed to protecting our security and maintaining our democratic way of life. We're also working to adapt our defence strategy to the changing threats we face."

Though the White House has said Biden's pledge did not signify a change in US policy, critics argue he may have undercut – intentionally or not – a US stance of not taking a position on Taiwan's independence.

China, which views Taiwan as its own territory, mounted large-scale military drills to display its anger over an August visit there by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Chinese military activities have continued since then, though at a much reduced level.

Chinese military aircraft have continued routinely crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait, which had for years acted as an unofficial barrier.

Taiwan said on Wednesday that eight Chinese fighters flew across the median line.

Tsai said those operations "encroach on Taiwan's sovereignty and threaten peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region."

"We know from history and current events that threats against any one country or region translate directly and indirectly to increasing threats against its neighbours."

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James Moriarty, the US-based chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington's de facto embassy in Taipei, said "strategic ambiguity" over whether Washington would come to the island's defence had never been stated as policy in any documents.

"It's never been a policy. It's been a description of what we do," Moriarty told the forum.

Referring to the decades-old Taiwan Relations Act, which forms the basis of the United States' unofficial ties with Taiwan, he said: "The original documents make it clear that we would have to do something if there is an attempt to change Taiwan's status by force."

Moriarty added that he did not think Chinese leader Xi Jinping had set a deadline of 2027 to take Taiwan, only that China's military should have the capability to do so by then.

"We have no idea what impact a slowing economy has on his thinking. We have no idea what impact the Russian failures in Ukraine have on his thinking ... So is there a firm deadline? I don't think so," he said.