Taiwan’s president called on allies to help defend its sovereignty Saturday, accusing China of waging a “deliberate campaign” to undermine the island’s democracy by refusing to talk to her government.

Relations between Taiwan and China have been at a low since Tsai came to power in 2016, refusing to acknowledge that the self-ruled island is part of “one China”.

Tsai Ing-wen.
Tsai Ing-wen. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

Beijing unilaterally cut off communication with her administration and stepped up military drills around the island as well as poaching several of its dwindling diplomatic allies.

Tsai’s comments capped a week of escalating rhetoric between the two neighbours, sparked by a landmark speech from Chinese president Xi Jinping on Wednesday.

Xi described Taiwan’s unification with the mainland as “inevitable” and reiterated Beijing’s willingness to use force if necessary, especially if Taiwan ever declares formal independence.

He also said Beijing was willing to talk to political parties and groups in Taiwan that recognised their “one China” principle — a reference to the main opposition parties.

Tsai hit out at Beijing’s willingness to bypass her elected government as “a continuation of its deliberate campaign to undermine and subvert our democratic process and create division in our society”.

“At a time when we are exhausting efforts to avoid provocation and miscommunication, China’s actions are unhelpful and contrary to democratic practices,” she said in a briefing with foreign media on Saturday.

 ‘Which country will be next?’ 

China still sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since they split in 1949 after a civil war.

The schism is one of profound geopolitical importance.

The United States diplomatically recognises China over Taiwan but it remains Taipei’s staunchest political and military ally.

Tsai said China’s increasingly muscular rhetoric towards Taiwan was a test of whether democratic allies would protect each other.

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping. Photo: CCTV screenshot.

“If the international community fails to speak up for and assist Taiwan under the circumstances we face today, I have to ask which country will be next?” she asked.

Xi has been touting the “one country, two systems” model for Taiwan.

A version was implemented in Hong Kong after Britain handed the city back to China in 1997 as a way to guarantee the kind of liberties and government unseen on the authoritarian mainland.

But sliding freedoms in Hong Kong in recent years have done little to endear the Taiwanese people to the idea of a similar deal for them from Beijing.

Tsai said it would be impossible for her government or any Taiwanese politician to accept Xi’s recent remarks “without betraying the trust and will of the people of Taiwan”.

Taiwanese frustration has also been compounded recently by allegations from the government that Beijing is not doing enough to inform its neighbour about an outbreak of African swine fever on the mainland.

Taiwan’s livestock exports have in the past been hammered by disease outbreaks from the mainland.

The discovery this week of infected pig carcasses on a Taiwanese island close to China’s shoreline — which authorities believed floated over from the mainland — has only added to a sense of urgency and anger in Taipei.

“I urge the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to intervene and call on countries in the region to engage in outbreak prevention,” Tsai said.

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