In the run-up to Taiwan's 2014 local elections, then Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen predicted that if her party did well, China would adjust its policies to improve relations with her party.

The DPP went on to win 13 out of 22 counties and cities in that election. Two years later, it did even better, with Tsai winning the presidency, and her party taking the majority of seats in the legislature, the first time this occurred since 1992 when direct elections were first held.

(Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen)

Rather than befriend the DPP, however, China doubled down on its historical hostility toward the traditionally independence-leaning party, cutting off direct contact with Tsai's administration and subjecting Taiwan to pressure aimed at exerting control over the island, which it regards as a renegade province awaiting reunification.

This pressure includes a range of steps, from cutting the number of Chinese tourists it permits to visit Taiwan and harassing companies that do business there, to excluding Taiwan from attending international forums like those of the World Health Organization and luring away diplomatic allies that recognize the self-ruled island as an independent nation.

Beijing also has intensified its efforts to intimidate Taiwan militarily, increasing the number and frequency of patrols that circle the island with planes and warships.

In May, Burkina Faso, a tiny nation in western Africa, became the fourth ally in two years to switch allegiance to Beijing in exchange for cash incentives, leaving Taiwan with only 18. The move prompted Tsai to declare that enough is enough and that Taiwan would "tolerate no more."

Many are now wondering whether Taiwan will return to the kind of cross-strait gridlock that occurred when the DPP was in power between 2000 and 2008, or whether China's hardline policy toward Taiwan will produce even worse results.

Despite Tsai's tough talk, Taiwan's ability to respond to Chinese bullying is limited.

Plans to strengthen relations with its existing diplomatic allies are offset by the fact that many are poor nations in Central America, the Caribbean and the South Pacific that provide little support in international politics.

Economically, 40 percent of Taiwanese exports go to China, including Hong Kong, making it Taiwan largest trading partner and leaving the island vulnerable to Beijing's economic pressure.

Militarily, China has more than 1,000 missiles deployed along the coast aimed at Taiwan, and with its military spending increasing exponentially in recent decades, Beijing's military option far outclasses that of Taipei.

To counter these inadequacies, Tsai has proposed a "New Southbound Policy" intended to offset its dependency on China by shifting exports to South and Southeast Asian counties as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Tsai has also urged like-minded countries such as the United States and Japan to develop more substantive economic and security ties with the island in a bid to "constrain" China's growing hegemonic influence in the region.

However, such efforts are hampered by the caution of potential trading partners who have their own reasons to preserve good relations with China.

And despite reassuring moves by the U.S. Congress, doubts persist as to how far Americans are willing to go to protect Taiwanese interests, especially given suspicions that U.S. President Donald Trump may only be using Taiwan as a bargaining chip to win concessions from China on military and economic issues.

Similarly, while Japan, a natural ally with historical ties to Taiwan, has taken steps in recent years to play a larger role in regional security, Tokyo's efforts to strengthen ties with its former colony have been muted, reflecting its own vulnerability to Chinese pressure.

For Beijing's part, recent bullying is a result of frustration in advancing its aim to have Taiwan, which still formally calls itself the "Republic of China," accept the so-called "1992 consensus" acknowledging that Taiwan is a part of "one China."

Previously, China adopted a "hearts and minds" strategy aimed at winning over Taiwanese voters by way of economic links that it hopes would lead to political negotiations and eventual unification.

However, such efforts have not produced the results Beijing sought. Apart from the landmark Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in 2010 and other trade deals, polls show declining support for unification and rising Taiwanese nationalism.

More recently, China announced incentives to attract Taiwanese to study, work, live or start business on the mainland.

Despite China's soft approach, its strong-arm tactics have only made matters worse.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has clearly failed to win Taiwanese "hearts and minds," said Ian Easton, a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute who sees Chinese intimidation as counterproductive.

"The more pressure (Beijing) puts on Taiwan, the more Washington will feel compelled to reconsider its past policy choices," Easton said.

Such bulling also increases Tsai's political leverage as "the more the mainland pressures Taiwan, the more support the Taipei authorities have at home," said Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace with long interest in Taiwan-China relations.

Describing China's military and diplomatic maneuvering as "the hallmark of an insecure country," Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at Center for Strategic and International Studies, also sees Chinese policies as counterproductive, saying that Beijing could better further its interests by doubling down on efforts to win over the people of Taiwan, instead of insulting and threatening them.

Beijing is not alone in attracting criticism.

Paal cites a lack of pragmatism on both sides -- and Taiwan, in particular, for being "politically and diplomatically rusty" in dealing with strategic allies like the United States and Japan.

Relations have been obstructed by unnecessary trade spats, for example, such as restrictions on importing U.S. meat products and food from five Japanese prefectures imposed in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

However, Easton regards Tsai's policy toward China as strategically sound and very welcome in the United States. Showing weakness by giving Xi what he wants would be a mistake, he said.