Taiwan president thanks military in new year's message

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visits a military base ahead of Lunar New year in Chiayi

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen thanked the armed forces for defending the island in her Lunar New Year message on Friday, saying the government had safeguarded peace in the face of China's military drills and pressure.

China, which claims the democratically ruled island as its own territory, has increased military activity around Taiwan during the past three years, including staging war games nearby in August after then U.S.-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei.

In a short, recorded video message before Lunar New Year's Day on Sunday, the most important holiday in the Chinese-speaking world, Tsai said this year like last would be "full of challenges".

"In the face of the Chinese Communists' military ships and aircraft frequently harassing Taiwan, or even carrying out exercises around the Taiwan Strait, the government firmly safeguards peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and region," she said.

"The military holds fast to their posts, fully protecting national security, defending our common homeland. I want to thank the labours of our brothers and sisters in the military," Tsai continued. "In the new year, the government will continue to go all out for the economy and recovery, protect sovereignty and safeguard peace."

China's air force has regularly crossed the Taiwan Strait's median line, which had served as an unofficial barrier between the two, since the August drills, and has carried out other exercises near Taiwan.

Tsai did not directly offer New Year greetings to China, simply extending best wishes to "friends" around the world celebrating the festival, which is also observed in countries such as Vietnam and South Korea.

In her New Year's address on Jan. 1, Tsai offered to provide China with "necessary assistance" to help it deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases, but said Chinese military activities near the island were not beneficial to peace and stability.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle)