Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Saturday her mission in life was to ensure the island continued to belong to its people and that Taiwan's existence was a provocation to no one, in a fiery pre-election rebuff to China.
Taiwan's Nov. 26 local elections come a month after Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has ramped up military pressure on the democratically-governed island to accept Beijing's sovereignty, secured a precedent-breaking third leadership term.
While the vote for mayors and councillors is nominally about domestic issues, Tsai told thousands of cheering supporters at a rally in central Taipei that much more was at stake, the first time she has so explicitly gone after China in this campaign.
Tsai said she had not "surrendered" to Xi's "one country, two systems" proposal for autonomy under Chinese sovereignty and that under her leadership more and more countries regard Taiwan's democracy and security as the key to the peace.
"I want to tell everyone that the existence of Taiwan and Taiwanese people's insistence on freedom and democracy are not a provocation to anyone," she said at the rally for her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
"As president, my calling is to make every effort to let Taiwan still be the Taiwan of the Taiwanese people."
China staged war games near Taiwan in August after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, and has since continued military activities nearby including almost daily fighter jet crossings of the sensitive median line in the narrow Taiwan Strait.
US President Joe Biden will meet Xi next week, with Taiwan on the agenda, according to the White House.
Election test of party support
While Tsai and the DPP swept the 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections, the main opposition party the Kuomintang (KMT) made strong gains in the last local elections in 2018.
The poll in two weeks' time will be a test for both parties ahead of Taiwan's next presidential and parliamentary vote, in early 2024.
The KMT, which ruled China before fleeing to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, traditionally favours close relations with Beijing, which has left it open to DPP attacks it will sell out the island to China's Communist Party.
The KMT denies this but could not shake the accusations ahead of the 2020 elections, leading to the DPP landslide.
Speaking at a KMT election rally in neighbouring New Taipei on Saturday, its chairman Eric Chu said their mission was to protect Taiwan's freedom and democracy.
"The most important goal is that everyone can have a peaceful and stable future," he said.