Taiwan’s president said her government will step up security measures to respond to military threats from China.
President Tsai Ing-wen gave no details in comments posted online but her government has encouraged development of a domestic arms industry in response to pressure from Beijing, which claims the island as its own territory and has sent fighter planes near its coast.
“We will strengthen our work for the whole society’s security,” Tsai wrote in response to questions from the public. She said her government will “especially look out for these factors from China.”
Taiwan and the communist mainland, separated since a civil war in 1949, have extensive trade and investment ties but no official relations.
Tsai, elected in 2016, rejects Beijing’s contention they are “one China” and must unite.
The mainland government of President Xi Jinping has responded with shows of force and diplomatic efforts to persuade the few countries that recognize Taiwan as an independent country to switch ties to Beijing.
The Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, has sent fighter planes near Taiwan’s coast a dozen times since Tsai’s election and an aircraft carrier sailing through the 110-mile-wide (170-kilometer-wide) strait that separates them.
Beijing has threatened to attack if Taiwan declares formal independence or delays talks on unification. Government surveys in Taiwan show most of the island’s 23 million people prefer to maintain their autonomy.
According to Tsai’s office, members of the public left 56 questions about cross-strait relations on her office’s Facebook page ahead of Sunday’s event. One asked what she will do to “get rid” of China’s “channels to infiltrate into Taiwan.” Tsai didn’t respond directly but said as a “polite president” she would shake hands with Xi.
The president appeared to be trying to use the online forum to allay public fears and reach out to younger Taiwanese rather than expand on her China policy, said George Hou, an assistant professor of mass communications at Taiwan’s I-Shou University.
The flybys and aircraft carrier movement have alarmed people in Taiwan, prompting questions about whether Tsai is handling the situation appropriately.
“She probably considered that she should make some connections with younger friends,” Hou said. “China-Taiwan policies haven’t changed in the past year. China needs to change.” In October, Tsai promised annual military budget increases of 2 percent, though spending still is modest compared with the mainland.
Beijing’s military spending is the world’s second highest behind the United States at USD 228 billion in 2017, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Tsai’s government has announced plans to promote development of Taiwan’s aerospace industry and suppliers of submarines, missiles and other technology.