How are the Taiwanese reacting to China's military threats following US House speaker's visit?

Military vehicles in Xiamen, a coastal city in Fujian province. Screenshot from a Twitter video from Bang Xiao

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taipei on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to protecting Taiwan’s status quo. The visit has thrown the region into chaos as China has promised potential military action in response to the visit.

China has scheduled unprecedented military drills encircling Taiwan's main island from August 4–7, soon after Pelosi’s departure.

While the majority of Taiwanese citizens anticipated Beijing's retaliation, most of them are continuing to go about business as usual even amid the escalating tensions.

Previous cross-strait crises

As Chinese media outlets stressed Nancy Pelosi’s visit as “non-official” and “personal,” Pelosi saw her trip as a way to support the US partnership with Taiwan:

In her Congressional Delegation statement, Pelosi addresses the significance of the trip in defending Taiwan’s status quo:

Our discussions with Taiwan leadership will focus on reaffirming our support for our partner and on promoting our shared interests, including advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region. America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.

Our visit is one of several Congressional delegations to Taiwan – and it in no way contradicts longstanding United States policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, U.S.-China Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances. The United States continues to oppose unilateral efforts to change the status quo.

In April 1997, the then US House speaker Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan following the Third Cross-Strait Crisis (1995–1996) and ahead of the handover of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997.

During the mid-1990 crisis, Beijing conducted a series of military exercises in Fujian after the US government issued a visa for the then Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui to deliver a speech on “Taiwan's Democratization Experience” at his alma mater, Cornell University. Beijing saw Lee’s performance as a violation of the one-China policy.

China insists Taiwan and mainland China are a unified country and the People's Republic of China (PRC) is the sole legitimate representative of China even though Taiwan has been a self-ruled state since 1949 after the ruling party of the Republic of China (ROC) fled to Taiwan upon its defeat in the Chinese Civil War (1927–1949).

After his three-hour visit to Taiwan, Newt Gingrich stressed that the US would take any action necessary to stop Beijing from annexing Taiwan by force. Beijing protested strongly against the high-level visit, but the crisis was settled through diplomatic means.

Pelosi’s visit may be even more significant. In addition to a meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen, she also met with pro-democracy activists from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, as News Bloom Magazine’s blogger Brian Hioe highlighted:

Beijing’s military action

While Nancy Pelosi is not the first US House speaker to land in Taiwan, Beijing’s response has been unprecedented. Before the visit, the Chinese officials threatened the US with “forceful measures” with “grave consequences,” and state-affiliated opinion leaders like Hu Xijin, the former editor of the state-run publication Global Times, advocated military action in response.

Though the White House warned Beijing against turning the visit into a crisis, nationalist sentiment has been boiling on Chinese social media, and online patriots are calling for hardcore military operations.

Soon after Pelosi’s Taiwan trip was confirmed, crowds rushed to the coastal area of Fujian to watch military vehicles moving into Xiamen, a coastal city in Fujian across the Taiwan Strait:

At night, Xiamen's sky was brightened by military live-fire exercises and flash bombs dropped from the fighter jets, fostering fears that a war might soon arrive on Taiwan's shores:

The People's Liberation Army set off their fighter jets, several of which entered Taiwan’s southwest Air Defence Identification Zone on August 2. More provoking military drills are scheduled to take place from August 4–7 after Pelosi leaves Taiwan, including “long-range live firing in the Taiwan Strait.”

Duan Dang, a blogger behind the South China Sea Brief compared the air force drills between the Third Strait Crisis (July 1995 to March 1996) and the current crisis with a map:

Taiwan Ministry of National Defense sees the drills as deviating from the principle of peaceful resolution of cross-strait relations:

In addition to military threats, China halted imports of more than 100 goods from Taiwan.

Taiwanese: living a normal life in crisis

While the tension is mounting, most Taiwanese are far from panicking. Taiwan lawmaker Lin Ching-Yi posted images of a welcoming message shown on the Taipei 101 building:

For ordinary Taiwanese, while they are worried about Beijing’s retaliation, many supported the visit as it reaffirmed Washington's commitment to Taipei, which would help Taiwan to maintain its status quo as a free and democratic society, as highlighted by Taiwanese Twitterers @christinelu and @formosanafro:

As China’s military threats have been ongoing for decades, most Taiwanese people have developed a strategy to maintain a normal life in the face of crisis, as suggested by the viral meme circulated on social media:

Viral image on social media.

The more daring critics such as @Lelechen945, even mocked China’s threat as “missiles fired from the mouth”:

China Foreign Ministry

The fifth response to Pelosi's visit!

Zhao Lijian: Chinese people can do whatever they have said

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