Uneasy calm in Taiwan as island surrounded

Chinese Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets (Weibo)

As China shows its muscle to Taiwan with live-fire exercises around the island, Adrian Moore in Taipei talks to locals and reports on life on the ground.

Life is normal here, there are no air raid sirens, no noises, just city living. 

People are brave on the surface but it is hard to discern whether they don’t want to show worry to foreigners. There is also an attitude that Taiwan’s voice has been drowned out.

The missiles that flew over Taipei were over 200kms high – that’s space.

If you were living on the north coast in Yilan country, then people reportedly could see things with binoculars, and a similar experience from near the south coast. Though Chinese media reported a ship came within range of a power station, the Taiwan defence said that nothing has breached the 12km range of the island. 

There has been plenty of action near the airfields including regular fighter jet take offs, though these are proportionate to the air activity of the Chinese, so are not entirely new, and they have been more regular in the past few years.

Chinese state media Global Times has quoted intelligence firm Stonehenge, that according to satellite imagery a Nanking 155 destroyer had breached the 12km territorialwater boundary close to the Hualien Ho-Ping Power station on the east coast of Taiwan, the fourth largest coal fired station on the Island.

 This is a claim that is now considered disinformation, after the Taiwan Defence ministry confirmed that no enemy ship had breached territorial waters:  ‘No PLAN vessel has entered our territorial waters since August 4 when the PLA drill started.’

Reports of missiles flying 200km over Taipei city were news to everyone here, where life continues as it always has. There were no sounds of thunder, or smoke trails. In Hsinchu Military base, Mirage jets respond in kind to median line incursions, although these are not exceptional events.

Screenshot from Taiwan’s ECB News features provocative tweets from Hu Xiji: ‘Pelosi’s visit crosses the red line for Beijing, and military drills will be larger than in 1996’; ‘the PLA will not abide by the 12 mile boundary and will be 8-9 nautical miles from the coastline’; ‘Taiwan is being locked in a cage, Pelosi fled the island, now open the door and beat the dog’. In the centre, Xijin is pictured below Chinese leader Xi Jingping. On the right are US House Speaker Pelosi, President Biden, National Security Council’s John Kirby (‘We are ready for whatever Beijing chooses’) and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (‘We will defend our interests in the West Pacific’).

Taiwan TV is ablaze with coverage of firebrand commentators from Beijing – the likes of Hu Xijin, who said the PLA would shoot down U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s jet if it tried to land in Taiwan. Despite the visual power of his words, the reality is that this is not a Tom Clancy novel.

Nationalistic fervour has been routinely stoked in China, but it is unusual for this to find traction on Taiwan TV. The Taiwanese people are not surprised by loud rhetoric, having heard a similar story for decades.

The day the live fire drills began was also the seventh day of the seventh lunar month – a Chinese day of romance or a local Valentine’s Day.

One Taiwanese tweeter linked the events, mocking the recent attention highlighting violence against women in China.

One women from Chiayi joked ‘people are so chill, we call it fireworks’. Jokes aside, beneath the bravery is uncertainty about the future: ‘If one day Taiwan becomes like Hong Kong, would you still want to make a life here? Because I don’t want to be re-educated.’ There was mention of a comment from Beijing’s Ambassador to France: “The US left Afganistan … even after they promised to protect that country.”

Some have expressed solidarity towards the fishermen who have had to cancel a week’s worth of work because of the new dangers out to sea, and the food producers who have faced a new raft of sanctions from China. ‘I don’t feel that the US coming here and saying things is a good thing for us. China is being very sensitive now,’ said Ruby, a school teacher.

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