However, it has been a major topic of discussion around the world, as the live-fire military exercises China launched in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit raised fears that it may undermine the long-established status quo in the Straits of Taiwan wants to change.
Chinese officials say it is the United States that is trying to change the status quo by strengthening its unofficial relations with Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing claims as its territory.
“Faced with this, China has no choice but to fight back and defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Deputy Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu told China’s state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday.
But either way, this latest crisis has heightened global concerns about the island’s future, a long-standing focal point in US-China relations and a thriving democracy in a region where autocracy is steadily winning.
‘We just want to protect our way of life‘
Lee Ming-che was one of the human rights activists Pelosi met last week during the brief visit in which she reiterated Washington’s support for Taiwan.
Lee spent five years in a Chinese prison as a political prisoner. Now, just four months after his release and return to Taiwan, the Chinese threat to the freedoms he can enjoy at home is escalating.
“I have seen and personally experienced in prison how the Chinese government ignores human rights and the law. And now this kind of country wants to infringe on Taiwan’s democracy and human rights,” Lee told NBC News by phone on Tuesday.
“Since the previous generations of Taiwan have made great efforts for the freedom, democracy and human rights of Taiwan, we only want to protect our way of life, to live in our own country, but China is using its military might to threaten Taiwan.”
Beijing’s military exercises around the island have gone further than in the past and beyond what many experts expected. On Wednesday, a spokesman for China’s Eastern Theater Command said the military had “successfully completed” several tasks around the island, but would carry out “continuous military training and preparedness.”
“We may see additional military exercises intermittently in the coming months,” said Amanda Hsiao, senior analyst for China at the International Crisis Group, which is based in Taipei.
But for generations of people in Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists fled in 1949 after losing to Mao Zedong’s communist forces in the Chinese Civil War, these security concerns are nothing new. Living with Beijing’s threats is just part of life, which continues as usual in Taiwan this summer.
On Dongyin, a Taiwanese island just 50 miles off the coast of China, electronic dance music began Saturday night with clouds of foam, mist and water jets from water cannons as China’s military exercises played out in the surrounding skies and waters.
This deliberate approach runs counter to some rhetoric abroad that compares Taiwan to Ukraine, where many residents reacted with disbelief to Russia’s long-heralded invasion of Russia in February. US military experts and former defense officials have warned that the Chinese military is now much more advanced than the last time tensions in the Straits soared in 1996, leading some to question whether Taiwan is not being too complacent.
“There’s a lot that feels like a judgment from experts in the US who look at Taiwan’s calm response and say people in Taiwan should take this more seriously, they don’t quite appreciate the circumstances they’re in,” said Lev Nachman, a senior executive. political scientist and associate professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “To which I think many of the Taiwanese responses are, ‘We fully appreciate the circumstance we’re in, we’re just choosing to respond to it in a calmer way than you are.'”
Airstrike drills are regularly held in Taiwan and officials are reviewing a civil defense manual issued earlier this year. But the island also says it needs continued support from the international community.
“This has implications for the entire region, which we are all witnessing in real time,” said Enoch Wu, the founder of Forward Alliance, a non-profit organization that conducts public workshops to prepare Taiwanese for conflict and crises. “Therefore, it is in the public interest of the democratic partners to strengthen defense alliances now, as the only way to keep the peace and ensure stability.”