Kinmen Islands, Taiwan – A storm is raging throughout the small Taiwanese island of Kinmen.
On an empty seashore alongside the island’s west coast, sturdy waves pound a line of rusty defensive stakes, secured in concrete foundations, that run just like the spikes on a hedgehog’s again alongside the rocky coastal stretch.
Additional up the seashore, regardless of the wild climate, Kinmen residents Robin Younger and Ne-Xie Wang are watching the waves crash in opposition to the shore. Behind them, the wind is howling by way of the cracks of outdated army outposts and lengthy deserted American-made tanks.
The fortifications as soon as shaped the spine of the defences of western Kinmen, the place Taiwan correct is 200km (124 miles) away and the Chinese language mainland lower than 5 (three miles).
Because the storm sweeps away a gaggle of low-hanging clouds over the water, the Chinese language mainland and the towers of the Chinese language metropolis of Xiamen emerge from the gloom.
With the wind threatening to tear off his jacket and masks, Younger gestures in direction of Xiamen after which factors right down to the seashore.
“If the Chinese language assault Taiwan, the primary assault will come right here.”
The drums of battle
A Chinese language assault on Kinmen shouldn’t be a theoretical state of affairs.
On the finish of the Chinese language civil battle in 1949, Kinmen was amongst a gaggle of outlying islands that remained within the fingers of the defeated Nationalists, together with Taiwan itself. The Communists tried twice to seize Kinmen, however each occasions had been repulsed by Nationalist forces.
As an alternative, the Communists performed an incessant artillery barrage of Kinmen for greater than twenty years in an try and pound the Nationalists and the folks of Kinmen into submission.
On the similar time, the Nationalists successfully turned the island right into a army colony the place the variety of troopers at occasions surpassed the overall inhabitants of about 100,000 Kinmenese.
It was solely as Taiwan democratised that Kinmen started to open up – first to the remainder of Taiwan, and on the flip of the century to Chinese language vacationers as nicely.
However in recent times, tensions between China and Taiwan have been rising steadily as soon as extra, and with US Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s go to to Taiwan on August 2, the state of affairs exploded into the worst disaster between the 2 international locations in additional than 25 years.
The Chinese language responded to Pelosi’s go to by conducting their largest-ever army workouts within the Taiwan Strait and sending missiles throughout Taiwan’s important island.
Tanks had been deployed to the seashores of Xiamen, and Taiwan drove away drones despatched over Kinmen by Chinese language forces.
Ne-Xie Wang takes a short stroll from the seashore to Kinmen’s largest city of Jincheng, not removed from the place the previous plane upkeep technician was born and introduced up.
He laments the state of affairs between China and Taiwan and fears hassle forward: “The connection has actually soured shortly in recent times.”
For 56-year-old Wang, as we speak’s state of affairs has echoes of his childhood, when he and his pals must rush to the closest bomb shelter each time the Chinese language fired an artillery barrage in opposition to the island.
“In my thoughts, each side ought to do every part of their energy to keep away from additional escalation,” he says.
“In any other case, I’m afraid that the Kinmenese would be the first to pay a heavy worth.”
Su Ching Tune was born in Kinmen however has been dwelling in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, since shifting there to check at college 15 years in the past.
She can be afraid that her native Kinmen would be the first victims of rising tensions.
“I don’t suppose the federal government in Taipei is with out fault if it ends in a Chinese language assault,” she stated over WhatsApp, providing Pelosi’s go to for example.
“The DPP (Democratic Progressive Social gathering) authorities in Taipei will need to have recognized that her go to would provoke a powerful response from China, however they let her come anyway. I don’t help the aggressive Chinese language response, however DPP is on the similar time being very dismissive of China’s crimson strains, and the Chinese language-Taiwanese relationship shouldn’t be going to get higher if each side deliberately provoke one another.”
Fisher Kuan-Lin Yu needs that he may return to the time when relations throughout the Taiwan Strait had been much less politically heated.
Again then, he labored as a driver and tour information for Chinese language vacationers coming to Kinmen. That ended when borders had been closed following the primary outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, and Yu returned to fishing.
“Earlier than the present authorities in Taipei got here to energy [in 2016], it appeared that China and Taiwan had been rising nearer to the advantage of everybody together with the Kinmenese,” he stated.
On the similar time, Yu understands why the connection has deteriorated.
Beijing claims Taiwan as its personal territory and has taken an more and more assertive method to the island because the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen — who opposes unification — was elected. She received a second election victory in a landslide in 2020.
Even earlier than the army drills this month, Beijing had been sending warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence zone regularly. It has not dominated out using drive to take the island and reiterated that menace in a white paper revealed on Wednesday.
“With the DPP authorities’s flirting with formal independence for Taiwan on one hand and the Chinese language meddling in Hong Kong and their aggressive rhetoric in direction of Taiwan on the opposite, I perceive why each side have hassle seeing eye to eye as of late,” Yu stated.
“Nonetheless, I’d a lot fairly that the Chinese language spend their cash right here than (on) their artillery ammunition.”
Wu Tseng-dong holds one such piece of ammunition in his arms in his workshop in central Kinmen.
“It was a present from Chairman Mao,” he jokes, chuckling earlier than he locations the shell on the ground.
The artillery shell is empty and simply one of many a whole bunch of hundreds that struck Kinmen in the course of the many years of Chinese language bombardment.
Wu crafts the metal within the outdated Chinese language shells into kitchen knives, which he sells in his workshop.
“It’s about turning battle and battle into one thing constructive,” he says earlier than attending to work with a chopping torch on the shell.
Lower than half-hour later, Wu has turned it right into a knife.
“I see what I make right here as a logo of peace at a time the place we’re heading dangerously near battle.”
For Kinmen, there are legit causes to be involved, based on Chen Fang-Yu, who’s an assistant professor at Soochow College in Taipei and research the political relations between Taiwan, China and the US.
He says that though China now possesses ballistic missiles and plane carriers, which diminish Kinmen’s strategic significance as a launching pad for any invasion of Taiwan, the island retains a symbolic significance.
“As tensions mount between China and Taiwan, the management of the Chinese language Communist Social gathering [CCP[ would possibly find yourself in a state of affairs the place they want a tangible win within the Taiwan Strait however aren’t prepared for an all-out assault on Taiwan. In that state of affairs, seizing the largely demilitarised outlying Taiwanese islands of Kinmen and Matsu may present a symbolic victory for the CCP; akin to what Russia did with Crimea in 2014.”
Kuan-Lin Yu prays that Kinmen is not going to endure the identical destiny as Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow.
“However that isn’t actually in my fingers or the fingers of the Kinmenese. We’re only a small fish in a strait of leviathans.”