Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen has warned the world that the People's Republic of China under President Xi Jinping is a threat to global stability, amid growing pressure from Beijing to isolate the democratic island.
"China's actions around the world — whether interfering in other countries' internal affairs or undermining the international market order — have already caused serious global instability," Tsai said, a day after El Salvador bowed to pressure from the Chinese Communist Party and switched diplomatic ties to Beijing.
"We must remind the international community once again that this is not just Taiwan's problem," Tsai said on her return from a private trip to the United States, where she can't make a state visit because of Beijing's insistence that its diplomatic partners cut formal ties with the island.
"The situation is urgent and leaves no room for appeasement," the president said in a statement on the presidential website.
Tsai said Taiwan and its 23 million residents were "entitled to [a] place in the world."
She said the island had terminated diplomatic relations with El Salvador after trying to salvage them amid "extensive diplomatic efforts."
"China's government has been unrelenting and repeatedly exerted pressure, using the severance of diplomatic relations with El Salvador to crush the will of the Taiwanese people to embrace the world," the president said.
She said Beijing had stepped up diplomatic and military hostility towards the island, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, including sending military aircraft to encircle Taiwan, forcing international airlines to change the way they refer to it as a destination, and depriving Taichung city of its right to host the East Asian Youth Games.
"China has never loosened its grip. Its suppression has only become all-pervasive," Tsai said.
El Salvador's switch of recognition to Beijing came after Taiwan denied repeated requests for massive injections of funding for its Port La Union project, according to Taiwan's ministry of foreign affairs.
The island's Republic of China government, a remnant of the Kuomintang nationalist regime that abandoned the Chinese mainland after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong's communists in 1949, said it had also refused to fund the Salvadorian ruling party ahead of forthcoming presidential elections.
"It would be irresponsible to engage in dollar diplomacy to compete with China for allies, or even make illegal political donations," the ministry said in a statement. "The government of Taiwan will not and cannot go down this path."
"Taiwan is a democratic and free country ... China’s unreasonable suppression will only serve to strengthen Taiwan’s commitment to pursuing even greater democracy, freedom, and sovereignty," it said.
Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
But Beijing regards the island as part of China, and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence. Beijing has succeeded in isolating Taiwan diplomatically by insisting that its diplomatic partners break off ties with Taipei under the "One China" policy.
Ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Tsai Shih-Ying said El Salvador had demanded more than U.S. $20 billion from Taiwan, to maintain diplomatic ties.
"[They wanted] at least U.S. $10 million in political campaign contributions, as well as four billion dollars' worth of investment in port development, as well as funding of U.S. $20 billion for the surrounding special development district in the future," Tsai Shih-Ying said.
"We would have been suckers to throw money away by investing in that port development scheme," he said. "[An] assessment of project showed that it held no development potential whatsoever."
Huang Chieh-chung, associate professor of international affairs and strategy at Taiwan's Tamkang University, said the switch of diplomatic recognition had escalated tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
"Cross-straits tensions have escalated to being very immediate, and the other side has a number of plays that are pretty well-rehearsed," Huang said.
Qin Jin of the Canada-based Federation for a Democratic China, called on the U.S. to lead the way in defying Beijing to set up more formal ties with Taiwan.
"All it would take would be for the U.S. to strengthen its ties with Taiwan, and other countries would strengthen their ties with Taiwan, too," Qin told RFA. "Then we might have a new situation emerging, something similar to the two Koreas."
China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is gradually preparing for a possible invasion of Taiwan, according to a military analysis published by the Pentagon in Washington last week.
Armed forces under the ruling Chinese Communist Party "continued to develop and deploy increasingly advanced military capabilities intended to coerce Taiwan, signal Chinese resolve, and gradually improve capabilities for an invasion," the U.S. Department of Defense said in an annual report on China's military capabilities.
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 Republic of China under the nationalist KMT government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.
When the KMT regime fled to Taiwan in 1947 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communist troops, the Republic of China ceased to control most of China, but continues to be the official name of the Taiwan government.
Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang'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.
Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.