"The island considers itself a sovereign state, but China views it as a breakaway province."
It is said that on a clear day, residents of the northernmost island in the province of Batanes can already discern the outlines of the port city of Kaohsiung, the southernmost part of Taiwan.
That island is called Mavulis, also known as Y'ami, and it's located a mere 80 kilometers from Kaohsiung. In June 2019, the Philippine Navy completed the construction of an outpost and multi-use shelter on Mavulis. This was a pro-active approach to protect our sovereignty and assert ownership of the territory amid China's increasingly assertive claims to nearly all of the South China Sea under its so-called nine-dash line.
Our limited military presence in an area close to the southern tip of Taiwan gives those assigned there a front-row seat to a possible escalation of the ongoing tension between China and Taiwan.
Beijing sent a record number of fighter jets into Taiwan's air defense zone last month. Analysts see this as a warning to Taiwan's leaders to desist from any action that could be construed as a declaration of independence.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that "reunification" with Taiwan "must be fulfilled", as heightened tensions over the island continue. He said unification should be achieved peacefully, but warned that the Chinese people had a "glorious tradition" of opposing separatism.
Xi's remarks were more conciliatory than his last major intervention on Taiwan in July, where he pledged to "smash" any attempts at formal Taiwanese independence. He said unification in a "peaceful manner" was "most in line with the overall interest of the Chinese nation, including Taiwan compatriots."
But he added: "No one should underestimate the Chinese people's staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity."
"The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled," he pointed out.
Xi said he wants to see unification occur under a "one country, two systems" principle, similar to that employed in Hong Kong, which is part of China but enjoys some degree of autonomy.
Taiwan's defense minister noted that tensions with China are at their worst in 40 years. The island considers itself a sovereign state, but China views it as a breakaway province.
Taiwan's presidential office said public opinion was very clear in rejecting one country, two systems.
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council called on China to abandon its "provocative steps of intrusion, harassment and destruction."
Shortly before Xi spoke in Beijing, Taiwan's Premier Su Tseng-chang accused China of "flexing its muscles" and stoking tensions.
China and Taiwan were divided during a civil war in the 1940s, but Beijing insists the island will be reclaimed at some point, by force if necessary.
Taiwan has its own constitution, democratically elected leaders, and about 300,000 active troops in its armed forces.
Only a few countries recognize Taiwan. Most recognize the Chinese government in Beijing instead. The US has no official ties with Taiwan but does have a law which requires it to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
By the same token, the Philippines adheres to the "One China" principle but maintains ties with Taiwan on an unofficial basis.
Despite the recent heightened tensions, relations between China and Taiwan have not deteriorated to levels last seen in 1996 when China tried to disrupt presidential elections with missile tests and the US dispatched aircraft carriers to the region to dissuade them.
And while a number of Western countries have expressed concern at China's displays of military might, US President Joe Biden said Xi had agreed to abide by the "Taiwan agreement", referring to Washington's longstanding One China policy under which it recognizes China rather than Taiwan.
However, this agreement also allows Washington to maintain a "robust unofficial" relationship with Taiwan. The US sells arms to Taiwan as part of Washington's Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the US must help Taiwan defend itself.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US will "stand up and speak out" over any actions that may "undermine peace and stability" across the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan is strengthening its military to ensure nobody can force them to accept the path China has laid down that offers neither freedom nor democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen said. She said she hoped for an easing of tensions across the Taiwan Strait, and reiterated Taiwan will not "act rashly." "But there should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure," she also said.
"We will continue to bolster our national defense and demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves in order to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us," she added. "This is because the path that China has laid out offers neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan, nor sovereignty for our 23 million people."