Taiwan independence campaigners will take to the streets Saturday for what they hope will be a major rally in a rebuke to Beijing and a challenge to the island’s already embattled government.
The protest in central Taipei comes as China increasingly pushes its claims to the self-ruling democratic island and President Tsai Ing-wen struggles to appease Beijing and independence factions.
Organised by new group Formosa Alliance, which is backed by two pro-independence former Taiwan presidents, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, the rally will call for a public vote on whether the island should formally declare independence from China.
It is the first potentially large-scale protest calling for an outright independence vote since Taiwan first became a democracy more than 20 years ago. Organisers say they aim to draw 100,000 people.
“Every Taiwanese should get to choose Taiwan’s future. It should be a decision by the 23.57 million Taiwanese people, not by China or Xi Jinping,” said veteran independence activist Kuo Pei-horng, head of the alliance.
China still sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949.
Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, with its own currency, political and judicial systems, but has never declared formal independence from the mainland.
Beijing has warned it would respond with force if Taiwan tried an official split.
Chinese authorities have already said the Formosa Alliance should not go down what they called a “dangerous path”.
But Kuo, 63, who was blacklisted by Taiwan’s authoritarian Kuomintang government in the 1980s for promoting independence, says it is worth the gamble.
“I think if [China’s President] Xi were ready to invade Taiwan, his troops would have already come or he could have found any excuse to do it,” Kuo told AFP.
Even though her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is traditionally independence-leaning, President Tsai Ing-wen has said she wants to maintain the status quo with China.
But that has not prevented relations deteriorating since she took office in 2016, as she refuses to adhere to Beijing’s line that Taiwan is part of “one China”.
Analysts agree Tsai would be unlikely to allow such an amendment which would be a red flag to Beijing.
The DPP has publicly prohibited its officials and candidates from attending Saturday’s rally, which will be held outside the party headquarters in Taipei.
But observers say independence campaigners feel a sense of urgency in any case, as the DPP holds the leadership and a parliamentary majority for the first time.
“For the activists now is a golden time to push their cause,” says Chang Ya-chung, a political analyst at National Taiwan University.
Some voters agree that there needs to be a new effort to carve out a place in the world for Taiwan.
“I think Taiwanese consciousness is increasing and the consensus to rectify our country’s name is also on the rise,” graduate school student Hung Pang-jen said.