In Taiwan, Life Goes On Under Barrel of China’s Gun

In Taiwan, Life Goes On Under Barrel of China’s Gun #Taiwan #Life #Barrel #Chinas #Gun Welcome to Lopoid

TAIPEI—Liuqiu, a short high-speed ferry ride from the southern Taiwanese town of Donggang, draws day trippers to its coral-fringed beaches, laid-back atmosphere and scenic lookouts. This week, some visitors headed to the southernmost tip of Sunset Pavilion hoping for a more dramatic view: Chinese battleships and jet fighters practicing for a war over control of their homeland.

Democratic Taiwan is encircled by the fleet of Communist-ruled mainland China, part of Beijing’s response to a visit Wednesday by U.S. Speaker

Nancy Pelosi.

The four-day drill simulates a blockade of the main island, with live firing in demarcated zones—one of which is less than 6 miles from the Liuqiu lookout, where local businessman Kevin Tseng said dozens of visitors gathered with their cameras Thursday afternoon.

“They were there to watch the fun,” said Mr. Tseng, adding that the drills have had no noticeable impact on his scooter-rental business, with just one group citing them when they texted to cancel a booking. Otherwise, everyday life on the island goes on as usual, he said.

“If they really attack us, there’s nothing I can do about it, so I just relax and take it easy,” the 40-year-old said.

The island of Liuqiu, a popular tourist spot in Taiwan, continued to draw visitors to its coastline on Friday.

Photo:

ANN WANG/REUTERS

Beijing has claimed Taiwan as an inseparable part of its territory since the victory of

Mao Zedong’s

forces over the nationalists, who retreated there in the late 1940s. Most of Taiwan’s 23 million people disagree: The island has been a bastion of democracy and liberal values in the region for decades, a linchpin in the global semiconductor supply chain and, for China’s Communist Party, an awkward model of an alternative for the 1.3 billion people living under its autocratic rule.

After Mrs. Pelosi ignored Beijing’s repeated warnings not to visit, Chinese social media was flooded with demands for a forceful response. Extensive coverage of battleships, jet fighters and flying rockets in state-run media—backed by hawkish commentary from military analysts linked to the People’s Liberation Army—offered the most visible evidence for this.

But while TV news bulletins in Taiwan were also dominated by the drills, there were few signs of rising panic among the public or businesses. The benchmark stock index gained more than 2% Friday, erasing its losses from earlier in the week as tensions over Mrs. Pelosi’s visit rose.

Taiwan’s night markets were teeming Friday evening with crowds craving their favorite street food or lining up for bubble tea. Markets and grocery stores were well stocked, too. Cultural activities such as live-music performances in the capital of Taipei—dubbed Asia’s answer to Portland, Ore.—are continuing as usual.

The Chinese drills were largely absent from the daily conversations of more than 20 people contacted by The Wall Street Journal.

Much of the discussion on Taiwanese social media focused on a Japanese military report revealing that four Chinese missiles had flown over the island, with many users aiming their criticism at the Taiwanese military for failing to disclose the information. The defense ministry said it hadn’t made the information public because of the need to protect its “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance abilities.” It added that the missiles mainly traveled outside the atmosphere, and so posed no threat to any people on the ground.

The impact of China’s exercises around Taiwan have mostly been evident offshore, with some vessels avoiding the area.

Photo:

Annabelle Chih/Getty Images

Some also poked fun at Thursday’s announcement by the PLA that it had already finished its missile tests. Meanwhile on PTT, a Reddit-like bulletin board system popular among middle-aged Taiwanese internet users, a number of threads related to the drills and military matters were trending alongside posts about local politics, dating and parental advice.

“I don’t think people are ignorant, nor are they numb,” said Lin Ying-yu, a defense expert who teaches PLA studies at Taiwan’s Tamkang University. “The threats from Chinese forces have been here for decades, and the people have always been aware of that.”

Moreover, Taiwan’s government, including President

Tsai Ing

-wen, has been warning against the potential threats from psychological warfare, with a number of government offices debunking what they called fake news. One such case involved a claim that China had decided to evacuate its nationals in Taiwan by Aug. 8.

The impact of China’s military deployment has been felt most offshore, with shipowners reporting some disruption as their vessels sought to skirt the affected area. Around half of the global container fleet and 90% of the world’s largest ships by tonnage crossed the Taiwan Strait last year.

Some seafood lovers the Journal spoke with had noticed a slight shortage of certain products at the markets.

The streets of Liuqiu displayed few signs that China’s live-fire exercises nearby had disrupted life on the island.

Photo:

ANN WANG/REUTERS

Local fishermen fear being hit by mistake during live firing, said Tseng Yu-tsung, a spokesman for Liuqiu District Fishermen’s Association.

“They don’t dare to go to the sea,” he said, adding that August is usually a busy month for hunting mahi-mahi, or common dolphinfish, a premium catch. His group estimates the cost of keeping more than 30 boats in dock during the exercises will be more than $600,000.

But for most, China’s latest round of saber rattling has left them unfazed after years of Beijing’s rhetoric.

Chen Hui-cheng, a 43-year-old shop owner selling frozen fruit on Liuqiu, said he had barely taken notice of an increase in chatter on

Facebook

on Thursday, learning about the drills only later. The main source of anxiety seemed to be coming from the news, he said.

“This might sound funny, but, actually, I didn’t know what happened yesterday,” he said. “I feel nothing.”

Write to Joyu Wang at joyu.wang@wsj.com

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