AAs Nancy Pelosi left for her historic visit to Taiwan this week, videos on Chinese social media began circulating showing convoys of armored vehicles moving along the beaches of the south coast port city of Xiamen. east of China.
Less than 5 km away, on Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands, life went on as normal, even as China announced an unprecedented series of military exercises that the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense said amounted to a blockade. Children played in the streets, students posed for graduation photos and tour buses continued to ply the islands’ attractions.
Tourism is one of the biggest industries in Kinmen, also known as Quemoy. Old military sites, remnants of when the islands were the frontline of the Cold War between China and Taiwan, litter the landscape. Giant speakers on the coast that once beamed propaganda across the sea now pump out soft music.
A favorite stop for visitors is Wu Tseng-dong’s workshop. Wu has been making knives for decades, continuing his father’s business. “At first, our main customers were the military, but once the tourism industry developed, that’s when we really started making a living,” he says.
Each of Wu’s knives is made from a used artillery shell.
On August 23, 1958, the Chinese army, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), launched a fierce artillery bombardment on Kinmen which continued, to some extent, for more than 20 years. Many Kinmen residents vividly remember living under constant bombardment – a fact that sets Kinmen residents apart from most Taiwanese.
“Everyone who lived here then had friends and family who were killed. We had to dig our own air-raid shelters. If you didn’t, there was nowhere to hide when the shells fell,” Wu said.
This heritage and these divergent histories – unlike Taiwan proper, Kinmen has for hundreds of years been entirely under Chinese rule in one form or another – means that few Kinmen would even call themselves “Taiwanese”. They are happy to be part of the Republic of China, the official name of Taiwan, and see no need to declare a separate and independent country.
The Democratic Progressive Independence Party led by President Tsai Ing-wen has ruled Taiwan for six years, but politics in Kinmen is dominated by the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, which favors closer ties with China. The islands’ representative in the Taiwanese legislature, Chen Yu-jen of the KMT, said her constituents were unhappy with Tsai’s policy towards China, citing the lack of communication between the two sides as one of the reasons for the crisis. current.
While Chen welcomed Pelosi’s visit, she said it was not worth the damage to Taiwan’s relationship with Beijing. But she says the people of Kinmen were not concerned with the Chinese military maneuvers: “There is no reason for them to attack Kinmen. Their target is Taiwan; if Taiwan falls, Kinmen will follow.
His view is shared by Samuel Hui, a military historian who lives in Taiwan’s central city, Taichung.
“Kinmen was very important for the defense of Taiwan. The Chinese Communists had to take Kinmen to have a chance of launching a successful invasion. But now the PLA has several aircraft carriers and ballistic missiles to directly attack Taipei and other major cities. There is no good reason to invade Kinmen.
Despite Kinmen’s historical ties to China, there is a growing generational gap. Many young people leave Kinmen to find work elsewhere in Taiwan, and few can imagine living under the authoritarian system of the communist mainland. In the 2020 election, Tsai’s vote share in Kinmen rose to 57% following Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong.
Nina Hong grew up going back and forth between the main island of Taiwan and Kinmen. She considers herself Taiwanese and is proud of the democratic freedoms she enjoys. The 28-year-old, who works for a company selling beauty products in Taiwan, says the two sides of the Taiwan Strait talk to each other too often. “Pelosi’s visit pushed people even further. It has helped more people around the world to see Taiwan, but it doesn’t solve the problem [Taiwan’s international isolation].”
In Wu’s workshop, he shows off a newly forged blade while explaining to audiences ranging from grandparents to young children how islanders could tell by the sound of an artillery shell where it was going to land.
“I don’t think there will be a war,” he said. “But since the pandemic, exchanges have stopped between Taiwan and mainland China. I think it had a negative impact on the relationship.
When asked if he blames Beijing for taking military action after Pelosi’s visit, Wu hesitates. “It’s politics, not something ordinary people like us can control,” he said. “All we can hope for is peace.”
It’s a sentiment shared by 83-year-old Cheng Ching-li, who heads the local association of veterans of the second Taiwan Strait crisis. “People today have no idea what we went through,” he says. “War is heartless. And peace is priceless.