In Taiwan’s Kinmen, people want calm amid China tensions | Political news

Kinmen Islands, Taiwan – A storm swept across the Taiwanese island of Kinmen.

On an empty beach on the island’s west coast, strong waves crashed against a row of rusted defensive piles anchored to a concrete foundation that stretched along the rocky shore like the spikes on a hedgehog’s back.

Further down the beach, despite the inclement weather, Golden Gate residents Robin Young and Ne-Xie Wang were watching the waves crash against the shore. Behind them, high winds roared past old military outposts and long-abandoned American-made tanks.

These fortifications were once the backbone of the western defenses of Kinmen, 200 kilometers (124 miles) from mainland Taiwan and less than 5 kilometers (3 miles) from mainland China.

Towers in mainland China and the Chinese city of Xiamen emerged from the haze as the storm swept a low-hanging cloud over the water.

Yang Yang’s coat and mask were almost blown away by the wind, Yang pointed to Xiamen, and then to the beach.

“If the Chinese attack Taiwan, the first attack will come here.”

drums of war

A Chinese attack on Kinmen is not a theoretical scenario.

At the end of China’s civil war in 1949, Kinmen, like Taiwan itself, was a group of outlying islands still in the hands of the defeated Kuomintang. The Communists tried twice to seize Kinmen, but were repelled by the Kuomintang troops.

On the contrary, the communists carried out uninterrupted shelling of Kinmen for more than two decades in an attempt to bring the Kuomintang and the people of Kinmen to their knees.

The skyline of the Chinese city of Xiamen can be seen through the smog over Kinmen and its surrounding islets [Frederik Kelter/Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, the KMT effectively turned the island into a military colony The number of soldiers there sometimes exceeds the total Kinmen population of about 100,000.

It wasn’t until the democratization of Taiwan that Kinmen began to open – first to the rest of Taiwan, and also to Chinese tourists at the turn of the century.

But tensions between the mainland and Taiwan have risen steadily again in recent years, and with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan On August 2, the situation erupted into the worst crisis between the two countries in 25 years.

Chinese respond to Pelosi’s visit The largest military exercise in the history of the Taiwan Strait And launched missiles on the island of Taiwan.

Tanks were deployed to Xiamen Beach, and Taiwan fought off drones sent by Chinese troops to Kinmen.

Wang Neixie walked from the beach to Jincheng, the largest town in Kinmen, not far from where the former aircraft maintenance technician was born and raised.

He lamented the state of affairs between China and Taiwan and worried about trouble ahead: “In recent years, the relationship has soured really quickly.”

For Wang, 56, today’s situation echoes his childhood, when he and his friends had to rush to the nearest bomb shelter whenever the Chinese fired artillery at the island.

“In my opinion, both sides should do everything in their power to avoid further escalation,” he said.

“Otherwise, I’m afraid the Kinmen people will pay a heavy price first.”

Golden Gate West Coast Defense Stakes
There are defensive stakes on the beach on the west coast of Kinmen.In the past, soldiers stationed on the island outnumbered the civilian population [Frederik Kelter/Al Jazeera]

Su Qingsong was born in Kinmen, moved to Taipei 15 years ago, and has been living in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan.

She also fears her hometown of Golden Gate will be the first victims of the escalating tensions.

“I don’t think the Taipei government is at fault if it ends up with a Chinese attack,” she said on WhatsApp, citing Pelosi’s visit as an example.

“The DPP government in Taipei must have known that her visit would elicit a strong reaction from China, but they let her come anyway. I don’t support China’s aggressive response, but the DPP is at the same time very dismissive of China’s red lines, if The two sides are deliberately provocative, and China-Taiwan relations will not improve.”

‘little fish’

Yu Guanlin hopes that he can return to an era when cross-strait relations were less politically intense.

At that time, he served as a driver and tour guide for Chinese tourists who came to Kinmen. This ended when Wuhan closed its borders after the first outbreak of COVID-19, and Yu returned to fishing.

“Before the current government in Taipei came to power [in 2016]it seems that China and Taiwan are getting closer to the interests of everyone, including Kinmen,” he said.

At the same time, Yu also understood the reason for the deterioration of the relationship.

An American-made Taiwanese tank is abandoned on the beach on the south coast of Kinmen
An American-made Taiwanese tank is abandoned on the beach on the south coast of Kinmen
[Frederik Kelter/Al Jazeera]

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has taken an increasingly assertive approach to the island since the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen — who opposes unification — was elected. She won a second election victory Landslide in 2020.

Even before this month’s military exercises, Beijing had dispatch fighter Regular access to Taiwan’s air defense zone.Do not rule out the use of force to capture the island reiterated threat in a white paper released Wednesday.

“On the one hand, the DPP government is flirting with Taiwan’s formal independence, and on the other hand, China’s interference in Hong Kong and its aggressive rhetoric toward Taiwan, I understand why it is difficult for the two sides to reach an agreement these days,” Yu said.

“However, I’d rather the Chinese spend their money here than (buy) their artillery ammunition.”

Wu Zengdong was in his workshop in the middle of Kinmen, holding such an ammunition in his arms.

“This is a gift from Chairman Mao,” he joked, smiling before placing the shell on the floor.

The shells were empty, just one of hundreds of thousands of shells that China has bombed over Kinmen for decades.

Wu turns steel from ancient Chinese shells into kitchen knives, which he sells in his workshop.

“It’s about turning war and conflict into something constructive,” he said before starting work with the torch on the casing.

In less than 30 minutes, Wu had turned it into a knife.

“At a time when we are dangerously close to war, I think what I’m doing here is a symbol of peace.”

Wu works on an old seashell with a cutting torch
Wu made a kitchen knife out of old Chinese seashells [Frederik Kelter/Al Jazeera]

For Kinmen, the worry is justified, said Chen Fangyu, an assistant professor at Soochow University in Taipei who studies political relations between Taiwan, China and the United States.

He said that although China now has ballistic missiles and aircraft carrierswhich diminishes Kinmen’s strategic importance as a springboard for any invasion of Taiwan, the island retains its symbolic importance.

“As tensions rise between China and Taiwan, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party[CCP]may end up in a situation where it needs a tangible victory in the Taiwan Strait but is not ready to take a full-scale attack on Taiwan. In this case, seize the The largely demilitarized Taiwanese islands of Kinmen and Matsu could provide the CCP with a symbolic victory; similar to what Russia did with Crimea in 2014.”[CCP[最终可能会陷入需要在台湾海峡取得切实胜利但还没有准备好全面进攻台湾的局面。在这种情况下,夺取大部分非军事化的台湾离岛金门和马祖可能为中共提供象征性的胜利;类似于俄罗斯在2014年对克里米亚所做的事情。”[CCP[mightendupinasituationwheretheyneedatangiblewinintheTaiwanStraitbutarenotreadyforanall-outassaultonTaiwanInthatscenarioseizingthelargelydemilitarisedoutlyingTaiwaneseislandsofKinmenandMatsucouldprovideasymbolicvictoryfortheCCP;akintowhatRussiadidwithCrimeain2014”

Yu Guanlin prayed that Jinmen would not suffer this disaster again Crimeaannexed by Moscow.

“But it’s not really in my hands or the Kinmen’s. We’re just a small fish in the Strait of Behemoth.”

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