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Taiwan’s islanders on the front line unfazed by the beating of the Chinese war drum

#Taiwans #islanders #front #line #unfazed #beating #Chinese #war #drum

Not far from the rusted tanks and anti-landing spikes that dot the beaches of the Taiwanese island he lives on, 92-year-old veteran Yang Yin-shih reads his newspaper in the shadow of the enemy who regularly reads his pages adorns

A few kilometers from Yang’s home on the tiny Kinmen Islands is mainland China, where he can see first-hand the military might that threatens his homeland.

Beijing staged unprecedented war games over the self-governing democracy it claims as its own in a hailstorm of anger last week after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan’s capital.

When Chinese ships crossed the Taiwan Strait and missiles slammed into the waters surrounding the island, a real risk of conflict arose.

But Yang was unfazed by Beijing’s recent war drumbeat, even though the islet of 140,000 people sat just 3.2 kilometers (two miles) across from the Chinese city of Xiamen.

“I’m not nervous. Kinmen is calm and quiet,” he told AFP, smiling between his morning routine of watching TV and strolling around his neighborhood.

Yang witnessed China’s deadliest bombing of Taiwan’s closest islands to the mainland more than 60 years ago and says the latest drills are small fish in comparison.

In 1958, China fired more than a million shells at Kinmen and surrounding communities, killing 618 and injuring more than 2,600.

“The bombing (1958) was more nerve-racking. It was more tense then,” he said.

“It’s difficult to assess the situation – whether (China) intends to intimidate or plans to attack.”

– ‘Make ends meet’ –

Despite bitter memories of conflict and current tensions, many Kinmen residents have a friendly view of China after years of close trade and travel ties across the short stretch of sea.

Taiwan has suspended ferry services to Chinese cities due to Covid-19, but Yang Shang-lin, a 34-year-old in the tourism sector, said he hopes Kinmen will soon reopen to Chinese visitors despite Beijing’s saber-rattling.

“Taiwan is freer and we don’t want to be ruled by China,” he said. “But we have to make ends meet.”

Still, there is a rift across the islands, as some Kinmen residents are willing to defend their homeland against Chinese aggression.

“If there is a war, I will fight,” said Huang Zi-chen, a 27-year-old civil engineer.

“I was born in this country and I have to go through thick and thin when my country needs me,” he told AFP on a break from supervising construction.

– ‘Not afraid’ –

While the Kinmen Islands once served as a natural obstacle to invasion, Beijing can now easily sidestep them with its superpower’s arsenal of missiles, jets and aircraft carriers.

Car rental company Yang believes that “the differences in military strength are far too great” and leaves Taiwan little hope of repelling a Chinese attack, especially given Kinmen’s size and proximity to the mainland.

“I wouldn’t want to go to the battlefield as there was no chance of victory,” he said.

James Chen, an 18-year-old student who is one of the few his age who hasn’t left to study or work in Taiwan’s cities, said combat should be left to professional soldiers.

“I think there is a 50/50 chance that China will use force against Taiwan, but we have no control over China, we should just be ourselves.”

This means that life in Kinmen goes on as normal.

Instead of rushing to the bunkers to hide or to the supermarkets to stock up on supplies, residents sing karaoke at home and eat with friends.

As 73-year-old Cheng Hsiu-hua played card games with her neighbors outside their homes on one of Kinmen’s quiet streets, she brushed aside the possibility that Chinese troops might one day land on her shore.

“No, we’re not afraid. They (Chinese troops) will not come here,” she said.

If Beijing were to use arms, the elder Yang says he would rather accept peaceful reunification than conflict.

So he’s offering a message to the Chinese government — one he’s learned from the legacy of the bombing he saw with his own eyes decades ago.

“Don’t go to war. War brings suffering and misery,” he said.

“There will be death on both sides.”

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