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Taiwanese tourists carry on despite Chinese threat

#Taiwanese #tourists #carry #Chinese #threat

When Joseph Lin visited Taiwan’s tiny Kinmen Islands last week, he practiced standing up on his paddle board while drifting across from the Chinese city of Xiamen, where fighter jets had screeched overhead days earlier.

The Taiwanese islands, just two miles from China’s coast, have become a popular tourist destination, and Beijing’s massive military drills this month couldn’t stop local visitors from jetting closer to their saber-rattling neighbors.

Lin, a former soldier from southern Taiwan’s Pingtung County, refused to cancel his three-day trip, saying he believes China’s show of force is only trying to appease nationalist sentiment at home.

“I think Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine sent a warning to (Chinese President) Xi Jinping that conquering Taiwan would not be that easy,” the 35-year-old told AFP after paddling under the blazing summer sun was.

“The price would be too high.”

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait are at their highest in decades as Beijing lashed out at a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei earlier this month.

In response, China conducted unprecedented military drills, firing multiple missiles into the waters around Taiwan and dispatching warplanes and warships to simulate a blockade of the island.

But even amidst the hustle and bustle of military activity, tourism in Kinmen continues.

Domestic flights continue to fly to the island, tour groups and buses crowd the islands’ popular sites, while visitors hoarding souvenirs litter the airport floor.

Visitors still peek from observation posts, walk past murals denouncing Beijing and photograph China between the anti-landing spikes that dot the beach.

– Life goes on –

Kinmen is a former battlefield where residents faced occasional shelling from Chinese artillery until the late 1970s.

But the islands opened to tourists in 1993 and have never looked back.

Wartime relics and memorials to its militarized past are major attractions, notwithstanding Kinmen’s proximity to China and the ongoing threat of invasion.

“There’s no point in worrying (about a Chinese invasion). We should keep calm and get on with our lives,” said Vanessa Chu, 52, who traveled from the coastal city of Hsinchu.

“I hope for peace as Taiwan is small and if tensions continue, Taiwan will suffer more than China,” she added, speaking to her two sons.

Many Kinmen residents, after years of close trade and tourism ties, have a positive view of China — the island’s main source of drinking water is a pipeline from the mainland.

However, visitors from China are currently banned from traveling there due to Taiwan’s strict Covid-19 rules, which are similar to Beijing’s.

The Chinese Communist Party sees all of Taiwan as part of its territory, waiting to be “unified” one day, if necessary by force.

But across the straits in Xiamen, residents lead a life similar to that on the beaches of Kinmen.

A young bride smiles and poses for a photoshoot on the sand while a man offers binoculars to tourists to observe the small islands that China bombed over half a century ago, killing more than 600 people.

– ‘use of force’ –

Taiwanese tourists have their own view of the water at nearby Lieyu, known as Little Kinmen and China’s next inhabited island.

They use a telescope from an old fort to view a Xiamen billboard that reads “One Country, Two Systems, Unite China.”

Intended for Taiwanese viewers, the slogan refers to the deal China made to guarantee Hong Kong certain freedoms and a high degree of autonomy before its handover from British rule in 1997.

But the vast majority of Taiwanese have long rejected this model — even more so after witnessing Beijing destroy political freedoms in Hong Kong following major pro-democracy protests over the past three years.

During AFP’s visit to Kinmen, some tourists giggled when a guide joked that the Chinese could have changed the slogan in Xiamen to “Use of force, unite China” as she struggled to find the billboard with the telescope.

An elderly tourist from Taipei, who declined to be named, said he believed China would not attack Taiwan directly because “there would be too many casualties.”

Lin, the former soldier, said he was ready to fight if the need arose.

“Taiwan is my home and I’m ready to stand out,” he said, paddleboard in hand.

“If we don’t protect Taiwan, who will protect us? Our democracy is valuable.”

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#Taiwanese #tourists #carry #Chinese #threat

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