Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has reiterated her government’s commitment to defend its democracy amid an increasingly “tense and complex” situation in the region at the Republic of China’s 110th National Day celebrations on Sunday.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen seen delivering a speech during the celebrations of the National Day in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

Beijing should be under “no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure,” the leader said in her keynote speech, She said they were determined to protect themselves “to make sure that nobody can force Taiwan to follow the path that China has laid out for it.”

Taiwan’s honorary guard parading during the ceremony of Taiwan National Day at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

Tsai said that the self-ruled nation is “in a situation more complex and fluid than at any other point in the past 72 years.”

Taiwan’s honorary guard parading during the ceremony of Taiwan National Day at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

Taiwan has been ruled by the Republic of China government since 1945 after Japan — which occupied the island for 50 years — was defeated in the Second World War. The People’s Republic of China claims that Taiwan is one of its provinces and does not recognise it as an independent country.

Sunday’s ceremony was also attended by the newly-elected leader of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party Eric Chu and other key opposition figures. Tsai said their attendance was “one of the most beautiful scenes of Taiwan democracy.” KMT members have previously boycotted National Day ceremonies held by the Democratic Progressive Party in protest over party differences.

Taiwan’s honorary guard parading during the ceremony of Taiwan National Day at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

The celebrations come amid one of the tensest periods of cross-strait relations in recent decades, as Beijing exerts growing pressure on Taiwan.

Some 150 Chinese military jets crossed into Taiwan’s air defence zone in the week leading up to Sunday’s National Day celebrations, with a record 56 military jets recorded on Monday alone.

Giant Taiwan flag is flown through the air by a Chinook helicopter during celebrations of the National Day in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Bezzareg/HKFP.

“I want to remind all my fellow citizens we do not have the privilege of letting down our guard,” the president said on Sunday.

Taiwan’s honorary guard parading during the ceremony of Taiwan National Day at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to unite the island with the mainland by whatever means necessary, including the use of force.

“The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled,” he said on Saturday.

Taiwan’s military personnel as part of the VIP guests during the ceremony of Taiwan National Day at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

Taiwan is only officially recognised as a country by 15 other states, after the US switched diplomatic recognition of China from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. It is excluded from most international organisations. In recent months, it has heavily relied on unofficial relations to promote its bid to gain official recognition on the international stage.

‘Democracy’s first line of defence’

This year’s ceremony also touched on Taiwan’s commitment to broadening its presence on the international stage, with a theme of “broadening democratic alliances and making international friends.”

Taiwan’s martial art team performing during the ceremony of Taiwan National Day at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Bezzareg/HKFP.

President Tsai spoke about Taiwan’s commitment to cooperating with other democracies to protect against China’s increasing belligerence: “At this moment, the global political landscape is undergoing drastic change,” she said.

Taiwan’s honorary guard parading during the ceremony of Taiwan National Day at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Bezzareg/HKFP.

“Free and democratic countries of the world have been alerted to the expansion of authoritarianism, with Taiwan standing on democracy’s first line of defence.”

Taiwan’s honorary guard holding the Taiwanese flag on the top of the Presidential office building during the ceremony of Taiwan National Day at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Bezzareg/HKFP.

Tsai cited Beijing’s “complete control of Hong Kong” and “suppression of democracy activists” in contributing to the evolving political changes in the region. Since Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong last June, the majority of the city’s political opposition and prominent democracy activists have either been jailed, held on demand or forced into self-exile.

“Let us move forward with confidence and pride as masters of our own destiny. Let us embrace our international role as a Taiwan of the world,” she concluded.

Taiwan’s military police seen during the ceremony of Taiwan National Day at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

This year’s celebrations were also marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has taken 844 Taiwanese lives. Tsai thanked the international community for their support during the pandemic.

Taiwanese woman seen listening to a speech delivered by the president Tsai Ing-wen (not pictured) during the celebrations of the National Day in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

Tsai’s speech comes amid growing unofficial international support for Taiwan, both in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic and on the international stage. Countries including the US, Japan, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Poland have collectively donated millions of vaccines to Taiwan amid a shortage since the island’s first outbreak in May,

The closing ceremony of Taiwan National Day at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Bezzareg/HKFP.

Taiwan’s official National Day celebrations also emphasised the country’s diversity, showcasing performances from representatives of the island’s indigenous tribes, and a dance troupe of performers of all ages.

A Taiwanese indigenous singer performing during the ceremony of Taiwan National Day at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan on October 10, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

Taiwan has been ruled by the Republic of China government since 1945 after Japan — which occupied the island for 50 years — was defeated in the Second World War. The People’s Republic of China claims that Taiwan is one of its provinces and does not recognise it as an independent country.

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Rhoda Kwan in Taiwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.