Taiwan has greeted intimidation by the Chinese military with parties rather than panic

The revelers continued to drink and dance as the Chinese fighter jets continued their simulated attack on Taiwan.

On the Taipei-controlled Dongyin Island just off the Chinese coast, which would be among the first to be hit if Beijing launched an invasion, hundreds of people joined a foam party held in the main square next to the port last week took place.

Most of the partygoers arrived on the night ferry from Taiwan, which had skirted “danger zones” cordoned off by the People’s Liberation Army, which fired rockets and rocket artillery.

US Spokesperson Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this month has infuriated China, which claims the territory. They vented their anger by conducting harsh drills, grounding fighter jets and blockading Taiwan.

But on Dongyin, China’s anger and belligerence have been largely ignored. The day after the foam party, Dongyin hosts an annual steeplechase race that weaves through the island’s rocky terrain.

Ella Chiu, an endurance runner who took part in the race, said she didn’t even consider canceling her trip. “When the ferries are running, it means it’s safe,” she said. “I didn’t see or hear any gunshots and life on Dongyin was completely normal. I would not have missed the race for anything in the world.”

The lack of panic at the unprecedented level of intimidation by the Chinese military surprised outside observers as they debated whether Beijing’s military drills heralded war.

John Eastwood, a partner in the Taipei office of Eiger Law Firm, was vacationing with his family on Liuqiu, a small island off Taiwan’s southwest coast, when the exercises began last week. He said Taiwanese tourists there were completely unfazed by the exercises, even though one of the live fire zones was only 9 km away.

The PLA declared its exercises over on Wednesday, but Beijing has indicated it would normalize a military presence closer to Taiwan.

In Taipei, however, the streets were packed with shoppers and restaurants throughout the Chinese manoeuvres.

“I would say that’s an ostrich mentality. They’re burying their heads in the sand,” said a European diplomat in Taipei. “Taiwan has long had a problem acknowledging the growing risk they live under, but it is extraordinary that they are unaware of even this situation.”

Aircraft from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command conduct a joint combat exercise near Taiwan © Li Bingyu/Xinhua/AP,

Since Tsai Ing-wen, denounced by Beijing as a separatist, became president in 2016, China has gradually increased its military activities around Taiwan.

For more than 70 years, the Chinese Communist Party has threatened to attack Taiwan if it refuses unification indefinitely. Faced with this constant intimidation, the Taiwanese have turned a deaf ear to the threat continue to go about their lives.

Beneath the surface, however, many are less confident than they appear.

Richard Bush, a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, the channel for Washington’s interaction with Taipei, said Beijing’s military posturing and bellicose rhetoric has already had an impact.

While no more than 5.5 percent of Taiwanese support the unification, the latest poll at National Chengchi University, released last month, 27 percent believe Taiwan will be united with China rather than independent in the future, he said Taiwan National Security Surveylast performed in 2020.

The same poll found that 60 percent believed Taiwan’s military would not be able to defend the country alone against a Chinese attack.

“China’s deterrence strategy has eroded trust,” said Bush, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine served as a wake-up call For many in Taiwan, this sparked a public debate about whether the US would defend the country if China attacked and how Taipei could strengthen its defenses. Young people in particular flock in droves to be trained in first aid and civil defense and even to learn to shoot.

But the public’s reaction to Beijing’s recent campaign of intimidation has been more complex. While many Taiwanese refused to take notice, others said there was no point in worrying as resistance would be futile if China made good on its threat of invasion.

Others, however, expressed defiance. “If we allow ourselves to be intimidated now, it would only help China win,” said endurance athlete Chiu.

The government and military have gone to great lengths to balance the need to keep the public more alert with avoiding panic. “No one is helped if we trigger a collapse in public morale,” said a senior official.

In the Taiwanese port city of Keelung, Chen Ming-chu listened as one of the customers at her food stand explained how China was practicing for a blockade that would cut off the country from vital energy imports. “You don’t even get the gas for your stove when they do that [attack]’ the customer said to her. Taiwan has greeted intimidation by the Chinese military with parties rather than panic

Adam Bradshaw

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