As Chinese missiles skimmed past their island on Thursday and Chinese naval vessels partially cut off Taiwan from the outside world, the Taiwanese remained surprisingly calm. “China says it wants to annex Taiwan by force, in fact it has been saying that for a long time,” the laconic comment of Chen Ming-cheng, a 38-year-old real estate agent, told the Reuters news agency in the capital Taipei.
Nevertheless, the Taiwanese authorities strongly objected to the extensive four-day Chinese military exercises, some of which even take place within Taiwan’s territorial waters and airspace. President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday called China’s actions “irresponsible not only for Taiwan but also for the international community.” “We don’t want to provoke, but we want to defend ourselves,” she said.
China fired at least 11 missiles and deployed about 100 aircraft, including fighter jets, and more than 10 naval vessels. Never before has China exercised on such a large scale in the Taiwan Strait. The last time the drills came close to the current ones was in 1996. Japan also reacted angrily on Thursday after five missiles landed in what it considers its exclusive economic zone in the sea.
Taiwan’s forces were also on alert, and in some places ships from both sides were only a short distance apart. Chinese drones were also seen over Taiwanese islands off the coast. However, as far as is known, it never came to an actual meeting with the Chinese.
According to Taiwan, China nevertheless violates UN rules, and the exercises with live ammunition constitute an intolerable violation of international shipping and air traffic.
The drills are intended to punish Taiwan for Tuesday’s visit by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives. She was the most senior US official to visit Taipei in 25 years. Beijing sees Taiwan as an integral part of China and considered the visit a provocation.
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In Taiwan itself, however, Pelosi was welcomed with open arms, not only by President Tsai, but also by the people. “This is a defining moment for me and my generation,” said website designer Chen Li-chieh, 39, in the southern city of Tainan. New York Times. “We have held our breath for so long when we were met by threats from the Chinese side. The time has come to defend ourselves bravely and make our own claims.”
Before the exercises, which are concentrated in six areas along Taiwan’s coast, China had warned civilian aircraft and ships to avoid the exercise areas. In connection with this, Taiwan was forced to cancel dozens of regular flights. The impact on shipping was not immediately apparent. Taiwan trades intensively with China.
Taiwan accounts for more than half of the world’s chip production, much of which is also used in Chinese consumer electronics. If the export of Taiwanese chips is stopped for a long period of time, it could have a very disruptive effect on the global economy.
Fishing boats in parts of Taiwan were also affected by the exercises. As a security measure, the Taiwanese government banned them from sailing. “We, the little ones, are always the victims when the politicians fight,” a fisherman in the northern town of Bi Ya Shu grumbled to a BBC reporter. Another said not to worry much. “The communists like big words, but they won’t do anything. We have lived with their threats for seventy years.”
Others did not foresee problems for other reasons. “Because Taiwanese and Chinese are all one family,” Lu Chuan-hsiong, 63, who came to swim in the sea, told the AP news agency. He pointed out that many people from mainland China already live in this area without causing any problems.
Nevertheless, in recent months, partly under the influence of the war in Ukraine, more Taiwanese have signed up for shooting courses to be able to resist a Chinese invasion force if necessary.
Meanwhile, companies in Taiwan are preparing alternative trade routes as they expect the Chinese blockade to continue beyond Sunday. “I think people realize that this doesn’t stop after four days,” Alicia Garcia Herrero, an economist at investment bank Natixis CIB, told the AP.