Four decades after the United States passed a law governing relations with Taiwan, which has since become a democracy, the island's president has called on Washington to aid its 23 million people in their bid to resist "coercion" from Beijing.
In a video conference marking the 40th anniversary of the U.S.' Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), Tsai Ing-wen said the law has been crucial to preventing instability in the region.
"In today’s world of increasing complexity and challenge, this has been more necessary than ever before," she told the conference on Tuesday, calling for a collective response to attempts by China's ruling Communist Party to "coerce" Taiwan.
She said the TRA had already supported Taiwan’s development of defense capabilities needed "in order to resist any form of coercion."
"The United States and other countries with similar ideas are helping Taiwan because they clearly see that China is not only threatening a country or a form of governance, but also our sense of collective security and common values and interests," Tsai told the conference hosted at the Brookings Institution.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Taiwan at the weekend in protest at China's proposal to govern the democratic island under the "one country, two systems" framework applied to Hong Kong.
In a Jan. 2 speech titled "Letter to our Taiwan compatriots," Chinese President Xi Jinping insisted that Taiwan must be "unified" with China, and refused to rule out the use of military force to annex the island.
Tsai replied at the time that Taiwan's 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty, and that China should first move towards a democratic system.
'Can't trust China'
Stephen Young, former director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) trade and cultural affairs office in Taipei, agreed.
"I remember that when Deng Xiaoping, the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party, proposed 'one country, two systems' before, he also told Taiwan not to be too nervous about it," Young said.
"But Beijing have already violated their commitment to Hong Kong," he said. "The lesson we have learned is not to trust the Chinese government."
Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at CSIS, told RFA's Mandarin Service that China's attempts to "unify" with Taiwan have brought Taipei and Washington into even closer alignment.
"This makes [the United States and Taiwan] think about how to cooperate more closely in the Asia-Pacific region, how to use international cooperation more effectively, and how to strengthen current security and defense relations between the two sides in order to protect Taiwan from [military] threat," Glaser said.
Tsai also called for a trade agreement with the United States and other free-market countries to reduce Taiwan's dependency on the Chinese economy.
She said national security concerns around the use of Huawei equipment in the next generation of 5G mobile networks have made it important for Taiwan and the U.S. to develop investment agreements.
“We need to reshape the supply chain to ensure that key technologies, infrastructure and related things do not fall into the wrong hands," Tsai told the conference.
A recent opinion poll found that more than 80 percent of Taiwanese would reject Xi's offer to rule the island via the "one country, two systems" model used for the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau.
Transition to democracy
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.
It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.
The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Kai-shek's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Washington cut off diplomatic ties with Taipei on Jan. 1, 1979, opting instead to recognize the People's Republic of China.
The TRA was subsequently enacted to govern the future bilateral relationship, and empowers the U.S. government to maintain commercial, cultural, and other relationships between the American people and the people of Taiwan, and to promote U.S. foreign policy.
Reported by Han Jie for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Pan Jiaqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.