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Taiwan shrugs off China's sabre-rattling

Tan KW
Publish date: Thu, 23 May 2024, 07:41 PM
Tan KW
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TAIPEI: As Beijing's ships and warplanes encircled Taiwan on Thursday, television anchors on the self-ruled island focused instead on a store razed by fire, a proposed ban on ambulance sirens, and a restaurant scandal involving an influencer.

Coverage of these hyper-local news stories eclipsed that of China's military drills, launched in response to what Beijing's military called "separatist acts of 'Taiwan independence' forces".

The exercises come as a "punishment" three days after the island swore in President Lai Ching-te, who China regards as a "dangerous separatist".

Popular news channel TVBS reported on the drills, but flicked quickly back to breaking news of truck drivers for an online retail service complaining about "sweat-shop" conditions.

Democratic Taiwan is accustomed to frequent threats from China, which claims the island as part of its territory.

Beijing has said it will never renounce the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, and has in recent years upped the rhetoric of "unification" being "inevitable".

But Taiwan has its own government, military and currency, as well as a population of 23 million that increasingly considers its identity distinct from that of the Chinese.

"Basically they want reunification, which means they (China) want to devour us (Taiwan). This is simple," said Hung, a 65-year-old taxi driver in Taipei, who scoffed at the drills.

"They are just raising a fuss. They won't really stage a war," he said.

"If they really want to stage a war, it would be missiles that are flying over," he said, adding that the drills were expected given that Lai is a member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has championed Taiwan's sovereignty.

"As long as the DPP is ruling, (China) won't be nice."

China launched its largest-ever war games in August 2022 in response to a visit to Taipei by then-United States speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Last year, when Taiwan's former president Tsai Ing-wen made a stopover in California to meet with another top US official, China also reacted by war-gaming a military encirclement of the island.

Like Lai, Tsai was part of the ruling DPP, and had repeatedly vowed to defend Taiwan's sovereignty.

In Lai's inaugural speech on Monday, he delivered an oft-repeated DPP line that the Republic of China - Taiwan's official name - and the People's Republic of China "are not subordinate to each other".

In the outlying Taiwanese island of Kinmen - which has been the site of heightened tensions as Chinese coast guard ships have increasingly breached "restricted waters" - tour guide Puan Chang said it was "life as usual".

"I am not stressed over this," he said. "I don't think (China) would actually launch an attack. I think it's aimed at intimidating the government after Lai takes office."

Tourists in Kinmen stood on the beach, struggling to see the Chinese city of Xiamen - located just five kilometres away - through heavy fog shrouding the island.

In the capital Taipei, one office worker shrugged off the heightened tensions, saying that "the stock market is stable today".

Taiwan's main stock index finished up 0.26 per cent on Thursday, extending a winning inauguration week.

"I think people are used to the intimidation," said Lin, 49, who declined to give her full name.

Military drills were nowhere to be found in Google's 18 most-searched terms for Taiwan, where the top-trending term Thursday was popular singer Gen Hoshino.

E-commerce worker Candice Chen, 41, said she was more concerned about recent news of Taiwan's opposition groups trying to pass bills that would expand the powers of Parliament.

The issue has dominated Taiwanese news in the past week after lawmakers got into a physical brawl in Parliament, and on Tuesday thousands of protesters held an all-day rally outside the building.

"Instead of worrying about the recent military drills, we are more concerned about the black box operations (lack of transparency) in our Parliament," Chen said.

She added that China was just "flexing their muscles".

"We have to get on with our lives. Instead of worrying about all that, I should just live my normal life," she told AFP.

 -AFP

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