A short distance from the rusted tanks and anti-landing spikes that litter the beaches of the Taiwanese island where he lives, 92-year-old veteran Yang Yin-shih calmly reads the newspaper in the shadow of the enemy who aspires to dominate them.
Mainland China is just a few kilometers from Yang’s home in the tiny Kinmen Islands, from where he can see the military might that threatens his homeland.
Last week, Beijing launched unprecedented military maneuvers around Taiwan in response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the autonomous island the communists consider their own.
With Chinese ships occupying the Taiwan Strait and missiles flying over the waters around the island, the risk of conflict has become very real.
But that didn’t deter Yang, even though these islands of 140,000 are located just 3.2 kilometers from the Chinese city of Xiamen.
“I’m not nervous. Kinmen is calm and collected,” she smilingly tells AFP on a break from her morning routine of reading and walking around the neighborhood.
Yang witnessed China’s last deadly bombing of these Taiwan islands, the closest to the mainland, 60 years ago. In comparison, these maneuvers are nothing.
In 1958, the communist army fired over a million projectiles at Kinmen, killing 618 people and injuring more than 2,600.
“The bombing was more stressful. It was more tense at the time,” he says. “It is difficult to explain the situation, whether China wants to intimidate or has plans to attack,” he continues.
– Close ties with the continent –
Despite bitter memories of the conflict and ongoing tensions, many Kinmen residents maintain ties to China after years of trade and travel across the narrow stretch of sea.
Taiwan has suspended ferry services to Chinese cities due to Covid-19, but Yang Shang-lin, who works in the tourism industry, is confident that Kinmen will open up to Chinese visitors soon.
“Taiwan is freer and we don’t want to be ruled by China,” he says. “But we have to pay the bills at the end of the month,” she adds.
While in the past the Kinmen Islands served as a natural barrier to invasion, China can now easily bypass them with its mighty arsenal of missiles, aircraft and aircraft carriers.
For Yang, “the disparity in military strength is too wide,” leaving Taiwan with little hope of defeating China, especially considering Kinmen’s size and proximity to the mainland.
“I wouldn’t want to go to the battlefield because there would be no chance of winning,” he admits.
“If there was a war, I would fight it,” says Huang Zi-chen, a 27-year-old civil engineer.
“I was born in this country and I have to be in good times and bad,” he told AFP during a break from overseeing a construction project.
18-year-old student James Chen is one of the few locals his age who has not left the islands to study or work in Taiwanese cities.
For him, combat should be a matter of professional soldiers.
“I think there is a 50% chance that China will use force against Taiwan. But we have no control over China, we should worry about ourselves,” she says.
And in general, life in Kinmen is normal. Its residents don’t run to bunkers or buy groceries at supermarkets, but enjoy singing karaoke or having dinner with friends.
In the midst of a card game with his friends on one of Kinmen’s quiet streets, 73-year-old Cheng Hsiu-hua rules out a China landing on his back.
“No, we are not afraid. They won’t come here,” she says.
If Beijing resorts to arms, old Yang would rather accept peaceful reunification than go into conflict. But with the lesson learned from the bombing decades ago, he advises Beijing: “Don’t make war. War brings suffering and misery.”
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