Taiwan's Tsai thanks troops after China military maneuvers

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen thanked navy and army personnel on Friday for their service defending the island, after China sent a record-breaking number of warplanes and ships toward Taiwan this week.

Tsai, addressing the Taiwanese Navy's 146th Fleet at a naval base on Penghu Island, said the military maneuvers by China earlier in the week were the largest to date this year.

“Your duty is very heavy ... and I wanted to thank you, our military brothers and sisters, for your hard work," she said. “Taiwan is on the frontlines of democracy. Only if we are prepared for war can we avoid war, and only if we have the ability to wage war can we stop war."

China’s military harassment of Taiwan, which it claims is its own territory, has intensified in recent years, and the Communist Party’s People’s Liberation Army has sent planes or ships toward the island on a near-daily basis.

In a 24-hour period between Sunday and Monday, 47 Chinese planes crossed the median of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial boundary once tacitly accepted by both sides, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense.

The incident came amid heightened tensions after China fired missiles into the sea and sent planes and ships across the dividing line in the Taiwan Strait in August after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island.

In response, Tsai has been actively trying to reform the island's military and defense capabilities, revitalizing its shipbuilding industry while also actively purchasing weapons from the U.S. On Tuesday, she announced the extension of compulsory military service from four months to one year starting in 2024.

Tsai addressed that move in her speech to troops on Friday, saying Taiwan would also modernize training for current servicemembers. Taiwan now only requires men to serve for four months in the military, which the public widely views as insufficient for the island's defense. She said the new year-long mandatory service would not be a “waste of time.”

Tsai visited both a naval and army base in Penghu, an archipelago of several dozen islands off the western coast. The 146th Fleet actively patrols the waters around Taiwan.