The view from Taiwan: ‘We’ve had this for 70 years’

So far the rising tensions between China and Taiwan – a fallout of US politician Nancy Pelosi’s brief but controversial visit to Taipei – are playing out exactly as predicted.

First, China declared six exclusion zones around Taiwan, a self-ruled island it sees as a breakaway province.

Then within two hours of those zones coming into effect, Beijing fired at least two Dong Feng ballistic missiles across the straits into the zones off the north Taiwan coast.

This closely follows the pattern of what China did back in 1996, the last time Beijing sought to punish Taiwan for seeking international recognition.

The object of the tests is clearly intimidation.

But the move is also causing massive disruption to Taiwan’s shipping and airline industries. The waters around Taiwan are some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. And all those ships are now having to re-route.

On the north coast of Taiwan, in the fishing port of Bi Sha Yu, fishermen sitting on the port side were fixing their nets and grumbling loudly: “It’s always us little people who suffer when the politicians fight.”

“But what can we do, it’s too dangerous to go out there now,” said one captain.

Another was tying up after coming back into port. “I went out this morning, but then the coastguard came on the radio and told us all to get back in to port immediately,” he said.

But he said he wasn’t worried.

“We don’t know where the exclusion zones are, so we have to do what the coastguard tells us.”

A man - not quoted in this story - looks towards Chinese military drills from the Taiwanese coastIMAGE SOURCE,EPA
Image caption,

A man – not quoted in this story – looks towards Chinese military drills from the Taiwanese coast

Standing on the dockside, his wife was far less sanguine: “Every day this goes on we lose money. We can’t catch fish but we still have to pay the crew’s wages!”

Most people the BBC spoke to do not believe China is about to attack Taiwan. “They’re a bunch of gangsters,” said one man fishing on the dockside.

“Those communists talk big, but they won’t do anything. We’ve been living with their threats for 70 years.”

But this is just day one, and there is still plenty of time for China to ramp things up.

Chinese ships could intrude into Taiwan’s territorial waters.

The most intense speculation is around the possibility that China is preparing to fire a missile right over the top of the island. The reason is that one of the exclusion zones China has declared is off the east coast of Taiwan in the Pacific Ocean.

A missile fired from China and landing there would have to cross over Taiwan. Such a missile shot would be a dramatic violation of Taiwan’s airspace.

The only country to have done anything similar is North Korea, which in August 2017 fired a long-range missile across the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Now the question is: will Beijing follow Pyongyang’s playbook?

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