TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China is threatening Taiwan "nonstop" and posing a major challenge to regional peace and stability, the island's President Tsai Ing-wen said in a National Day speech Thursday.
Tsai's comments come amid a renewed push by China to internationally isolate the self-governing island democracy that it claims as its own territory by poaching its few remaining diplomatic allies.
Tsai's remarks also 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 intends to use to absorb Taiwan.
"China is using its 'one country, two systems' program to threaten us nonstop and has used all sorts of attacks and mounted virulent challenges to regional peace and stability," Tsai said in her speech at the presidential office building in the center of the capital, Taipei.
China cut off contact with Tsai's government shortly after her inauguration in 2016 because she rejects Beijing's claim to the island. She is the front-runner to win reelection next year, despite a push by Beijing to undermine her support in part by wooing the large Taiwanese business community in China.
Resistance to China was one of three goals Tsai outlined in her speech.
"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."
Referring to Hong Kong, Tsai said, "the failure of 'one country, two systems'" had taken Hong Kong to "the brink of disorder."
The framework 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 whittling away at such freedoms.
"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 needed. 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.
In September Beijing persuaded two of Taiwan's diplomatic allies, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, to switch allegiance from Taipei to Beijing. Five other countries have switched sides under Tsai.
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.
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. President Donald Trump's administration has approved a flurry of arms packages, including new F-16 fighter jets, and signed a bill that encourages high-level visits.
"I think the president's statements and viewpoints parallel what the U.S. is saying at the moment, as they (both) see China as a competitor," said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan.
Because of ongoing trade frictions with Washington, Beijing probably won't rebut Tsai's speech, Huang said.
"China would not seek a fight at the current moment and not try to antagonize the United States," he said.
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% of Taiwanese oppose unification with China, per government surveys in January and March.
Under Tsai's Nationalist Party predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan and China signed more than 20 agreements on trade and tourism, while sidestepping political issues. China insists that was possible because Ma endorsed Beijing's one-China principle implying that both sides were part of a single Chinese nation.
Oct. 10 marks the 1911 founding of the Republic of China, which once ruled on the mainland but was forced to retreat to Taiwan in 1949 after Mao Zedong's Communists took power over Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists.