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Taiwan living under China’s threat

Amid military drills, cyberattacks, and trade restrictions, the Taiwanese are alert and calm


Taiwan Air Force Mirage fighter jets taxi on a runway at an airbase in Hsinchu, Taiwan, on Aug. 5. Associated Press/Photo by Johnson Lai (file)

Taiwan living under China’s threat

Missiles have been on the mind of Lillian Brubaker Huang, who lives in the Taipei, Taiwan, metropolitan area with her Taiwanese husband, Ken, and their three children. When she heard a strange sound last week around midnight, that’s what she thought of. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted its largest-ever live-fire drills around Taiwan last week as retaliation against U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-governed island that China claims as its own territory.

Although communist China announced it has concluded its military exercises around the Democratic island, the PLA plans to regularly patrol the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese military is carrying out live-round drills in the Yellow and Bohai seas that include anti-submarine attacks and sea-raid operations. That the PLA has stepped up activity indicates China wants to normalize its increased military presence around Taiwan, observers say. China also released a white paper on Wednesday that reiterated its aim to “reunify” with Taiwan. It did not rule out the use of force.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon maintains its assessment that China will not invade Taiwan in the next two years, said Colin Kahl, the U.S. undersecretary of defense, on Monday. The PLA is not ready to take over Taiwan yet, said Dean Cheng, senior research fellow on Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation. But when it is fully modernized by 2027, he said that will be the moment of “greatest danger.”

Caught in the geopolitical tensions is Taiwan’s population of 23.6 million. Recalling the sound she heard last week, Huang asked, “What if one [missile] lands?” Mimicking the sound of an explosion, she added, “What can we do?”

Besides China’s military drills, Taiwan also identified cyberattacks allegedly from its communist neighbor with at least 272 attempts to spread disinformation. Within the past week, hackers made several Taiwanese government websites display the Chinese flag. They replaced National Taiwan University’s homepage with the message: “There is only one China in the world.” And when Speaker Pelosi was visiting the island, they made screens in 7-Eleven convenience stores show the words, “Warmonger Pelosi get out of Taiwan.” While the Chinese hacking group APT27 claimed responsibility for some of the attacks, Taiwanese authorities also traced attempts from Russian IP addresses, which are numeric designations that identify a location on the internet.

China also imposed trade restrictions to retaliate against Pelosi’s visit, banning more than 100 Taiwanese food brands and halting the import of Taiwanese citrus fruit and some types of fish. It has also suspended exports of natural sand, an important material in construction, to the island as well.

Despite China’s aggression, daily activities for Huang,  who has lived in Taiwan for almost 20 years since moving from the United States to teach English, and her family remain about the same. That’s also the case for others in Taiwan: Vacationers enjoyed their time by the sea and influencers continued their scheduled livestreaming from a bookstore. “We’re so used to China needing to flex a little bit every now and then to tell the world, ‘This is our land, and don’t mess with us,’” Huang said.

Brian Hioe shares that life-goes-on attitude. The online magazine editor in Taipei tweeted a video of himself dancing at a club amid China’s drills. Only a few minorities in Taiwan want full independence or unification with China, he wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian. Most people seem to support the status quo of Taiwan being ambiguously de facto but not de jure independent, he said.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in a video address last Thursday, “We will neither escalate conflict nor instigate disputes, but we will resolutely defend our nation’s sovereignty and security as a bulwark of democracy and freedom.”

Some Taiwanese are learning basic gun skills and street fighting, the BBC reported. Taiwanese officials have designated subterranean spaces—such as subway stations, underground shopping centers, and basement parking lots—as air raid shelters. In Taipei, these shelters number more than 4,600 and can accommodate 12 million people, more than four times the city’s population, Reuters reported.

The tension with China is not something the Taiwanese often discuss among themselves, Huang said. When her husband brings up geopolitical issues with his former classmates and army buddies in their chat groups on the Line app, they tend to avoid the subject, she said. The Huangs think their reticence might stem from concerns about reprisal over sensitive topics. And while their church intercedes for Taiwan during morning prayers, Huang noted there hasn’t been an urgent sense of danger within the congregation.

Still, she said some of her expat friends have already packed emergency bags, ready to up and leave. And her husband, looking ahead, suggested that she return to the United States with their children while he stays to fight.

“You stay, we’ll stay,” Huang insisted, adding that if a missile does land and “there’s going to be chaos and death in this beautiful, peaceful place that’s one of the best on Earth, we trust that God’s going to use that for His glory. Maybe we’ll live through it, amen, and maybe we will die … amen, but let Him be glorified in it.”

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