Ukraine war reverberates on Taiwan's 'frontline of democracy'

FRIDAY, MARCH 25, 2022

Taiwan has raised its alert level since Russia's invasion of Ukraine but has not reported any signs of an imminent attack from China.

Lin Jih-shou was brewing tea last month in his popular breakfast joint when he heard the buzz of a plane – a rare sound on the remote Taiwan-controlled island of Dongyin near China's coast, which does not have an airport.

Lin, 64, rushed outside, but only saw the shadow of what the government later described as a small, propeller-driven Chinese aircraft that most likely was testing Taiwan's military response.

It was a stark reminder to residents of Dongyin and Taiwan's other islands off China's coast of the threat from their huge neighbour, which considers Taipei's democratically elected government illegitimate and Taiwan a rogue province to be taken by force if needed.

Matsu was regularly bombarded by China at the height of the Cold War, and the history of conflict has focused minds on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and whether the same fate may befall them.

"Even if they (China) provoke us, we still can't touch them. If they want to fly over (the island of Dongyin), just let them fly. If you shoot them down, everything will be over, I’m not kidding you, it would be the start of the third or fourth world war," Lin told Reuters. "It’s really too scary."

Taiwan has raised its alert level since Russia's invasion of Ukraine but has not reported any signs of an imminent attack.

Held by Taiwan since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taipei in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war, Matsu would probably be an immediate target for Beijing in a conflict, especially Dongyin's missile base, analysts say.

Yet even with China's increased military pressure in recent years, the archipelago has seen trendy businesses and a nascent art scene spring up.

Dongyin native Tsai Pei-yuan, born in 1993, the year after Matsu's strict military rule ended, is part of a generation for whom war feels distant. Two years ago, Tsai and two former classmates co-founded Salty Island Studio, a cafe and community hub that has hosted arts workshops and plays.

"To continue preserving some cultures and traditions that are on the brink of disappearing, while also preserving our ocean, this is really what we young people actually care about," Tsai said before a wine-tasting event last week. "The presence of war in our lives is not such a strong one."

Chung Jing-yei, 26, who manages Xiwei Peninsula restaurant on the main island of Nangan, said it was only after she moved to Nangan that she understood why so many here want to maintain the status quo.

"Because they are on the frontline. In case something really happens, this place here might be the first to come under fire," she said.