Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the disputed island shocked the world. But for ordinary Taiwanese, life went on as usual.
Nancy Pelosi arrives at Parliament in Taipei, Taiwan, August 3, 20222. Photo: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images
It’s no secret why Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was such big news. As Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, she is the direct successor to the presidency after the vice president. There has not been such a visit by a US official in 25 years. On the eve of the visit, there was talk of a possible fourth crisis in the Taiwan Strait; Xi Jinping warned the US that they were „playing with fire.” Some feared the prospect of a world war.
But for the people in Taiwan, at least for now, life goes on as usual. Such is the nature of life in a country that has long been considered a geopolitical pawn. What the Taiwanese really want or feel overshadows the great power standoff.
China has announced that it will conduct live firing around Taiwan in the coming days in response to Pelosi’s visit. But there is nothing new about Chinese military threats to Taiwan either. Beijing considers the island a sovereign territory of China, although it is de facto independent; The US is the guarantor of Taiwan’s security in the event of a Chinese invasion. Taiwan believes China has been aiming thousands of missiles at us for decades. Meanwhile, in the past few weeks, the domestic news cycle in Taiwan seemed to focus more on celebrity gossip and plagiarism claims involving the mayoral candidate than on global affairs.
The tension is, of course, rising. Last October, China sent a record number of warplanes to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. More recently, Chinese warships have been spotted off Taiwan’s outlying islands such as Lanyu. Nevertheless, these military threats are often not perceived by the general public. Beijing may have failed when it comes to crafting a narrative about the escalation of threats in Taiwan: to people here, this narrative sometimes seems like endless repetition.
China claims that Taiwan has been part of its integral territory since time immemorial. The history is more complex. It was only annexed to China during the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century, but the Qing Empire controlled only part of the island and showed little interest in it, ceding Taiwan to Japan after the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. After the Civil War, which led to the victory of the Communists, control of Taiwan passed to the losing side, the Kuomintang (KMT), which brought a new wave of migrants, but also subjected Taiwan to a period of authoritarianism known as the White Terror.