Self-ruled Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing, will go to the polls latest this month to choose a new president.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has stressed that the self-ruled island’s future and its relations with Beijing must be decided by its people after China’s leader Xi Jinping said “reunification” was inevitable.
Beijing claims Taiwan as its own and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its goal.
It has been stepping up political and military pressure on the island since Tsai was first elected in 2016 and has ramped up its campaign in the weeks ahead of the next presidential and parliamentary elections on January 13.
In a bullish New Year’s Eve address, Xi struck a stronger tone than usual over the island, promising the nation that China would “surely be reunified”.
Asked about Xi’s speech at a New Year’s press conference at the presidential office in Taipei, Tsai stressed that the island was a democracy and it was its people who decided their future.
“This is taking the joint will of Taiwan’s people to make a decision. After all, we are a democratic country,” she said, calling on Beijing to respect the outcome of the election and stressing it was the responsibility of both sides to maintain peace and stability in the strait that separates them.
Earlier on Monday, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defence said it had detected four Chinese military aircraft and four Chinese navy vessels near the island. It said one of the aircraft had entered its air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in the southwest.
Beijing sees Tsai as well as Vice President William Lai Ching-te, the frontrunner for the top, job as “separatists” and has refused offers of dialogue.
Reelected in a landslide in 2020, Tsai has bolstered relations with the United States, Taiwan’s most significant ally, and stepped up efforts to modernise the island’s military.
“Everyone’s home has locks on them, which is not to provoke the neighbours next door but to make yourself safer. This is the same for the doors to the country. Taiwan’s people want peace, but we want peace with respect,” she said.
Tsai and Lai are from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has dominated the island’s politics in recent years leaving the China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) in opposition.
Analysts told Al Jazeera last month that Beijing was running a multi-pronged campaign to ensure the DPP is not re-elected and that the people of Taiwan make what it considers the “right choice”.
In his New Year’s speech, Xi reiterated his goal of unifying China and Taiwan.
“Compatriots on both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait should be bound by a common sense of purpose to share in the glory of national rejuvenation,” he said.
Tsai cannot run for another term in office because she has already served two terms. She will step down in May when the next president is sworn in.