Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has sentout a warning to Asia in the face of mounting aggression from Beijing.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Tsai said the military threat posed by China was growing “every day” in line with a more assertive foreign policy under its President Xi Jinping.
“If it’s Taiwan today, people should ask who’s next? Any country in the region — if it no longer wants to submit to the will of China, they would face similar military threats,” said Tsai.
Taiwan and China are separated by fewer than 130 kilometers (81 miles) at their closest point.
For seven decades, the two have maintained an uneasy truce following their split at the end of a destructive civil war in 1949.
Unification is a long-term aim for China’s ruling Communist Party, which considers self-governed democratic Taiwan — an island of 23 million people — to be a renegade province.
But it was the election of Tsai and her historically pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2016 which sent relations between the two governments spiraling.
Beijing has placed mounting diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan, conducting live-fire drills in nearby seas and flew H-6K bombers and surveillance aircraft around the island.
“With China becoming increasingly strong and ambitious, we are faced with growing threats,” Tsai said.
“Our challenge is whether our independent existence, security, prosperity and democracy can be maintained. This is the biggest issue for Taiwan.
“Taiwan’s unofficial ally the United States has for decades acted as the island’s security guarantee against the threat of Chinese military action. But when asked directly, Tsai wouldn’t be drawn on whether she believed US President Donald Trump would come to her aid.
Instead the Taiwan leader said she is focused on strengthening Taiwan’s own defense capabilities in the face of an “imbalanced war,” as China’s military modernizes.
“We have to be prepared at all times,” she said.