War in Ukraine spills over to Taiwan’s ‘frontline of democracy’

DONGYIN/NANGAN, Taiwan, March 25 (Reuters) – Lin Jih-shou was making tea at his breakfast crowd last month when he heard the hum of a plane – a rare sound on the remote island of Dongyin , held by the Taiwanese, near the Chinese coast. , which does not have an airport.

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

It was a stark reminder to the people of Dongyin and other Taiwan islands off China’s coast of the threat from their huge neighbor, who views the democratically elected government in Taipei as illegitimate and Taiwan as a rogue province to be taken by force. if necessary.

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The Matsu Islands were regularly bombed by China during the height of the Cold War, and the story of the conflict has focused minds on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and whether the same fate could happen to them.

“When we watch Russia and Ukraine fight, our hearts ache,” Lin told Reuters. “War is too scary. It’s not necessary.”

Taiwan has raised its alert level since the invasion, but has reported no 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 likely be an immediate target for Beijing in any conflict, particularly the Dongyin missile base. Read more

Yet even with increased military pressure from China in recent years, the archipelago has seen a flourish of trendy businesses and a nascent art scene.

On the main island of Nangan, former military brothels and underground bunkers house exhibits that opened last month as part of Matsu’s first art biennale.

“It’s a way of renaming and telling the stories of Matsu,” said Lii Wen, who established the local branch of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in 2020.

Taiwan’s outer islands, long known as military strongholds, can be redefined as “a front line of democracy”, Lii said, as a Ukrainian flag flew outside his office window. Although their regional contexts differ, Lii said, Taiwan stands in solidarity with Ukraine as a small democracy facing possible invasion.


A native of Dongyin, Tsai Pei-yuan, born in 1993, a year after the end of Matsu’s strict military regime, is part of a generation for whom war seems distant. Two years ago, Tsai and two former classmates co-founded Salty Island Studio, a cafe and community center that hosted art workshops and plays.

“The most urgent thing is to try to preserve our culture, which is disappearing,” Tsai said before a wine tasting last week.

The war in Ukraine is a common topic of conversation for some – including jokes about where to hide if China invades.

“When we explore fortresses, we wonder, if a war really starts, which nearby fortress would we run to?” said Chung Jing-yei, 26, who runs the Xiwei Peninsula restaurant in Nangan.

Chung said it wasn’t until she moved to Nangan that she understood why so many people here want to maintain the status quo.

“My belief that we should be an independent country is resolute, but at the same time I don’t want war to happen,” she said.

The rugged coastlines of the islands are dotted with bunkers, abandoned or turned into tourist destinations and boutique hotels.

Older residents of Matsu have vivid memories of hiding in shelters from Chinese bombardment and not being allowed to own basketballs for fear of using them to float back to China.

“I don’t think the two sides will fight,” said Lucy Lin, a 62-year-old taxi driver and bakery owner, as a Chinese radio station played in her car. “As long as you don’t cross the red lines.”

Shih Pei-yin, who worked as an urban planner in Taipei before founding Xiwei, is keen to play his part in improving the lives of Matsu residents.

“As long as possible, we hope to work with the people of the island to improve this place,” Shih said. “Even if it’s short-term, it’s okay. At least we did our best.”

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Reporting by Sarah Wu. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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