Taiwan’s president on Thursday delivered a fiery rebuke to China’s offer of a “one country, two systems” formula to unify the self-governing island with the mainland, saying that such a framework has taken Hong Kong to “the brink of disorder.”
President Tsai Ing-wen’s comments, delivered during a National Day speech, came amid a renewed push by China to internationally isolate Taiwan by poaching its few remaining diplomatic allies.
Today, just 15 countries, small and mostly impoverished, recognize Taiwan. Roughly 180 countries recognize China, which as the world's second-largest economy offers generous financial inducements in exchange for formal diplomatic ties, far beyond those Taiwan can offer.
Tsai’s Thursday remarks follow months of anti-government protests in the former British colony of Hong Kong, which reverted in 1997 to Chinese rule under the same "one country, two systems" framework Beijing says it wants for Taiwan.
Speaking from the presidential office building in the center of Taipei, Tsai accused China of using that same program to threaten Taiwan’s “regional peace and stability.”
The framework of “one country, two systems” preserved Hong Kong's independent judiciary, civil liberties, and capitalist economic system, but China's ruling Communist Party under President Xi Jinping has been increasingly accused of encroaching on such freedoms.
China cut off contact with Tsai's government after her inauguration in 2016 because she rejects Beijing's claim to the self-governing island democracy.
"We must stand up in defense," Tsai said. "Rejection of 'one country, two systems' is the biggest consensus among Taiwan's 23 million people across parties and positions."
"Over 70 years, we've endured all sorts of severe challenges and not only do none of these challenges knock us down, they make us stronger and more resolute," Tsai said. "One offensive after another, they've not made Taiwanese people yield."
China says the two sides must be eventually reunited, by force if necessary. Beijing has steadily increased diplomatic, military and economic pressure on Taipei over the past two years in a bid to force Tsai to the bargaining table. Beijing also commands a massive military and has hundreds of missiles pointed directly at Taiwan.
Tsai looks largely to the United States for support, including the provision of weapons to defend against China. The Trump administration has approved a flurry of arms packages, including new F-16 fighter jets, and signed a bill that encourages high-level visits.
Tsai, a 63-year-old U.S.-educated law scholar, is ramping up her campaign for reelection before the vote in January. Her chief election opponent espouses friendlier relations with China. About 80 per cent of Taiwanese oppose unification with China, per government surveys in January and March.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.