Keelung – In the port of Keelung in Taiwan, dispatchers spent much of Thursday issuing warnings to fishing boats heading north, reminding them that the Chinese military was conducting live-fire drills in proximity.
“This is Keelung Radio Station,” the radio system crackled. “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army will conduct military exercises from August 4 at noon…”
The warnings, at the start of every hour, were a stark reminder that Taiwan’s 23 million people live under the constant threat of invasion – a danger that has intensified under current Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Throughout the day, dispatchers received calls from the Taiwanese navy detailing which vessels were heading too close to multiple danger zones declared by China around the island.
They would then rush to contact individual ships and warn them.
“We had to permanently warn 10 to 20 boats by radio to leave and stay clear,” Huang Li-yue, 61, head of the radio station of the fishing fleet of the city, told AFP. Keelung.
“There are also requests from boats on the location of exercise areas.”
Huang said she remembered the last time this happened.
In 1995, China began testing missiles in the waters around Taiwan, to protest a visit by then-President Lee Teng-hui to his alma mater university in the United States.
Further missile tests were carried out a year later as Taiwan held its first direct presidential election.
But China’s latest drills – a protest against the visit to Taiwan this week by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – were much closer to shore.
“The tension in the previous crisis of 1995-96 was also high, but this time it is happening in the waters around Taiwan,” Huang said.
– ‘There’s not much we can do’ –
The Chinese Communist Party has never controlled Taiwan, but it considers the island part of its territory and has vowed to take it one day.
Beijing has stepped up its slashing since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016 because it views the island as a sovereign nation and not part of China.
The people of Taiwan have long had to get used to threats and spikes in tension beyond their control, as evidenced by the latest Chinese drills that surrounded the island.
Chen Wen-ching, executive secretary of the Keelung Fishermen’s Association, said many members were upset that they couldn’t work during the peak season.
“But we can’t do much. They (China) do what they want,” he told AFP.
“Life is more important. You can earn money later. Leaving the zone is what is most important.
Chou Ting-tai, 68, returned from squid fishing in northern Taiwan waters shortly before the start of Chinese exercises around noon.
“We can avoid the zones but psychologically there is still a little stress, right? What if something went wrong with their lens and it strayed? ” he said.
In nearby Taipei, many residents said they should go about their daily lives undisturbed by China’s new show of force.
“I think China is bluffing and trying to divert attention from its domestic and economic problems by holding military exercises around Taiwan,” Leo Chung, 22, said after serving a series of clients at the time of the lunch in his family’s small restaurant. .
Shopkeeper Wang Yi-ting, 40, said she hoped Taiwan’s allies, such as the United States and Japan, would eventually intervene if China ever attacked for real.
“Although Taiwan is very small, we have a place on the world stage,” Wang said.
But Karen Hsueh, 60, worried that Taiwan was just a helpless pawn in a struggle between two much stronger powers.
“I think China can’t afford to look weak and it needs to take steps to show it’s not afraid of the United States,” the trader told AFP. .
“Frankly, I’m more worried about China punishing Taiwan with economic means. I think Taiwan is the victim of the confrontation between China and the United States.