China threat sparks generational conflict in Taiwan – 05/08/2022 – World

Café Forte San Jiao on the island of Kinmen is perhaps the best place in Taiwan to observe the threat of invasion from China. Directly overlooking the Chinese city of Xiamen, just 9.6 km away, it is built over a former military bunker, decked out in camouflage nets, and serves hot and cold drinks.

With Chinese warships now off Taiwan’s coasts and missiles crashing into its seas, the divided loyalties of the two cafe owners say a lot about a generational shift in Taiwan that has transformed the democratic island’s relationship with China.

If China tried to take Taiwan by force, Chiang Chung-chieh, 32, would fight back, even if the chances of victory are slim. Ting I-hsiu, 52, said he would “surrender”.

With a culture forged by eras of indigenous peoples, hundreds of years of Chinese immigration, Japanese colonial occupation and a harsh period of martial law, Taiwan is not monolithic.

During its three decades of democracy, conflicting loyalties have dominated its politics, with arguments over whether to accommodate or oppose China’s claims to the island split along lines of age, identity and geography.

In recent years, under China’s growing bellicosity, the middle ground has shifted. Now, more and more, Taiwanese identify themselves as separate from China. For them, China represents an existential threat to a pluralist and democratic way of life. They haven’t considered Taiwan part of a divided family for a long time, as Ting and many older, friendly people from China describe the relationship.

Even on the Taiwanese islands closest to China, which have historically been more inclined towards the giant neighbor, Ting is an endangered breed. Contradictorily, the older generation, who remember most of China’s attacks decades ago, is the friendliest of the nation.

Beneficiaries of Chinese economic liberalization and education that emphasized ties to Beijing, they recall the years when China opened up to the world and enriched many, before Xi Jinping became the top leader. For younger Taiwanese, their vision of China is what Xi has forged, an illiberal land bent on denying its ability to choose its own leaders.

Although Chiang has had similar experiences to Ting — they both spent time in China and lived much of their lives in Kinmen — he values ​​Taiwan’s openness and feels threatened by Beijing.

“I appreciate Taiwan’s freedom and democracy and don’t want to be unified by others,” he said.

The outlook, hardened by decades of democratic rule as well as China’s relentless efforts to isolate Taiwan and, more recently, dismantle Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, informed the low-key reaction of many to Chinese military exercises over China’s visit to Taiwan. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This is what many expected from China.

Even at Café Forte San Jiao, built on a historical fragment from a not-too-distant past of direct military confrontation, there was indifference to the new threats. In contrast to the tanks rusting on the beach below, discarded equipment reminiscent of the days when the two sides exchanged artillery fire, the exercises took place far away, in the skies and seas.

On Friday, China sent fighter jets, bombers and more than 10 destroyers and escort ships to areas around Taiwan, with some crossing the midline of the Taiwan Strait, which separates mainland China from the island. China’s launch of at least 11 missiles on the first day of exercises, one of which crossed over Taiwan, was invisible to most.

Along the coast in the Matsu Islands of Taiwan, an archipelago close to mainland China, life went on as normal despite being just 40 km away from one of the exercise preparation sites. Alongside Taiwanese soldiers loading artillery shells onto a transport boat, a voluntary beach cleanup continued. Many said things were worse.

Empowered by decades of military stalemate, older residents shrugged off tensions. During a US-China standoff in 1995 and 1996, before Taiwan’s first direct presidential election, they recalled how people fled the smaller islands and rushed to banks to withdraw savings during Chinese military actions.

“People were running for their lives,” said Pao Yu-ling, 62.

Pao is convinced that, just like last time, nothing will happen. It’s a rare point of agreement with his 35-year-old daughter Chang I-chieh.

She has little recollection of previous military exercises during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, as the standoff was called at the time. Instead, she said Chinese sand dredgers, which have recently invaded the seas near the islands, are a more palpable sign of China’s aggression.

Now she views Beijing’s authoritarianism with a critical eye. While her mother believes economic growth should come first and admires the new buildings that have been erected on nearby Chinese islands, Chang said freedom and democracy are paramount.

“Sun Yat-sen, our founding father, took so long to win the revolution to get us out of dictatorship, why should we go back?” she said.

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