TAIPEI • Taiwan independence campaigners will take to the streets on 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 on the self-ruling island and President Tsai Ing-wen struggles to appease Beijing and independence factions.
Organised by the new Formosa Alliance, which is backed by two pro-independence former Taiwan presidents, Mr Lee Teng-hui and Mr 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 declared its democracy over 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.
The Chinese authorities have said the Formosa Alliance should not go down what they called a "dangerous path". But Mr 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," Mr Kuo told the Agence France-Presse.
Beijing is already incensed by a referendum that will take place in November asking for the island to compete as "Taiwan" and not "Chinese Taipei" in the next Olympics and other international sports events.
China is particularly sensitive to the island's use of names, emblems and flags, as it sees them as an expression of Taiwanese sovereignty, and under Beijing pressure, Taiwan has to compete internationally as "Chinese Taipei".