Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen pledged Wednesday to bolster the island’s self-defense capabilities as she visited an outlying island county that bore the brunt of artillery bombardments from mainland China during the 1958 Taiwan Strait crisis.
Tsai visited Kinmen, a group of islands located off the coast of mainland China governed by Taiwan as a county, for the 65th anniversary of the “823 Artillery Bombardment,” which began on Aug. 23, 1958, and saw more than 470,000 artillery shells fired at the islands over 44 days.
“To maintain peace, we must first strengthen ourselves. Therefore, we must continue to implement defense reforms, push for self-reliance, and bolster our defense capabilities and resilience,” Tsai said in a speech during a luncheon.
Commending all the soldiers and civilians, including those who lost their lives, in defending Kinmen throughout the crisis, Tsai said people in Taiwan can “walk on the road of democracy and freedom” thanks to them.
During the 1958 crisis, over 450 soldiers on the islands were killed.
The successful defense of the military outposts — the closest of which lies just 2 kilometers off the coast of China’s Fujian Province — is recognized as having helped safeguard Taiwan from Chinese invasion.
Under a proposed budget, the island’s government is seeking to hike defense spending next year to a record NT$606.8 billion ($19 billion), which accounts for 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product, according to a statement issued by Tsai’s office Monday.
Mainland China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 due to a civil war. Beijing views the democratic island as a renegade province to be unified with the mainland, by force if necessary.