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Life in Taiwan Under the Threat of China

Chinese maritime training drill. Credit: China Military Online

A Greek-Cypriot expatriate in Taiwan says that life on the island continues as usual despite China’s threats to invade. But what are the similarities and differences between life in Taiwan and Greece and Cyprus?

By Alex Matsangou

News of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s in Taiwan has ignited international media worldwide. I’ve been inundated by messages and calls from family in the UK and Cyprus who are seriously worried for my safety and asking me to come back ‘home’.

But Taiwan is my home and has been for over eight years, which, as you can imagine, is difficult for Greek-Cypriot parents to understand.

In 2014, I decided to follow my dream and move to Asia. I became a teacher and taught English, but, whenever I got the opportunity, I shared the Greek and Greek Cypriot culture whenever I could. More recently, I was invited to a school for disabilities to have a Cyprus Culture day—probably the first ever Cyprus cultural event in Taiwan.

I’ve traveled a lot in my time, and I’ve been to almost sixty countries. I chose Taiwan. It was a place I had visited before and fitted with my ideal destination.

Alex with his sister and girlfriend in rainy Taiwan. Credit: Alex Matsangou

Having Mediterranean DNA, Taiwan’s climate suited me just fine although some people may not like the humidity, as it’s a semi-tropical island, and the odd typhoon and earthquake may put people off. The health care is also excellent. While not free, it is very affordable and efficient.

A couple of years ago, I needed surgery on my shoulder. I was assessed, scanned, and operated on all within a month. When it comes to crime, it is one of the safest places in the world.

There’s a lot of respect and trust among the Taiwanese. People are not worried about theft or violent crime. People have no problems leaving their cell phones or bag in a restaurant while they go to the bathroom. One time in McDonald’s, there were five laptops on a table, but no one was there. They all went downstairs to order food.

I also love that Taiwan is steeped in history, culture, and tradition with a subtle mix of Western philosophy. With a background in history and archaeology, this aspect indeed attracted me. Probably most importantly, however, there is freedom of speech, and it is a free democratic, self-governed country.

Throughout my time in Taiwan, I noticed similarities with Cyprus, allowing me to adjust to my new environment. Of course, the obvious is that they are both islands with mountains in the middle. In some cases, society behaves similarly, especially regarding competitive parents and their children and the constant regular gossip.

For an island of 24 million people, it seems everyone knows each other’s business. The Taiwanese likewise have strong family values. The ceremonies and family time during Lunar New Year always remind me of Greek Easter. When it comes to driving, I don’t know who is worse. I think the driving is crazy in both countries.

Of course, there are differences, too. Taiwan has a tea culture whereas Cyprus has a coffee culture, though coffee shops have popped up all over the island in recent years. Another difference is that in Cyprus, the elderly love backgammon whereas in Taiwan, it’s Go or Mah-jong.

However, both Cyprus and Taiwan face threat from a neighboring and a much larger country that doesn’t recognize their sovereignty and constantly threatens with rhetoric and incursions.

Life continues as usual in Taiwan

Life in Taiwan
A meat market in Taiwan. Credit: Jorge Gonzalez / Flickr

This leads us back to Pelosi’s trip and the military drills of China in Taiwan’s backyard. Taiwan has been facing threats from China for over seventy years.

Most Taiwanese see what China is doing now as another one of its tantrums just because they didn’t get their way. Generally, life continues as usual in Taiwan. The Taiwanese don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

When I told my Taiwanese partner that my parents wanted me to go back home and bring her with me, it took her a minute for her to stop laughing, “That’s so sweet,” she went on. “We are all laughing at China…China is China they’re a joke, [and] if they want to attack, just attack already.”

As I scroll through my social media, not one of my Taiwanese acquaintances has mentioned China. It’s just the usual posting of cats and wedding photos, and one Taiwanese friend complained his refrigerator was not working in the Taiwan heat. That is a big problem.

Whatever your politics are, either you love her or hate her, all Nancy Pelosi did was visit a country. If Taiwan didn’t want her to stop over, they would have refused her to land, but instead, she got greeted with a warm welcome. All China did was bring worldwide attention to Taiwan.

Of course, the danger of invasion is always there. It has been for a long time, but the Taiwanese mentality is there’s nothing to be done about it, so why stress?

The Taiwanese feel that all the headlines have been blown out of proportion. The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) feels they have lost face because Pelosi ignored China’s wishes to not visit Taiwan. The CCP must show their citizens that they are doing something to save face. And sending missiles across the Taiwan strait is their response. But what did they really do?

China said they hit their intended target. If their intended target was the ocean, then it’s pretty hard to miss. Of course, it’s crazy and dangerous to send missiles over cities, and miscalculations and accidents could happen, but they would never directly attack Taiwan— not immediately anyway. The CCP has too much to lose.

Taiwan is the world’s leading producer of microchips. It produces about 64 percent of the world’s semiconductors. The world is already suffering from a shortage of microchips. Any invasion or blockade will further exasperate the issue. China relies heavily on chips made from Taiwan which will damage their manufacturing capacity and economic development that has seen slow growth recently.

Furthermore, because of China’s insistence on its decades-long one-child policy, every soldier in the PLA (People’s Liberation Army), the armed wing of the CCP, is a single child. Male children have always been favored because parents want their sons to carry on the family name. Going to war risks many families losing their bloodline, and with an ageing population, it reads even more economic disaster for China.

Finally, this year, Xi Jinping hopes to become ‘Chairman for Life,’ and I very much doubt that he will risk a full-scale invasion across a hundred miles of rough seas.

I’ve been on those stormy seas, and the experience was unpleasant. I was surrounded by people feeling sick and throwing up. I imagine the more than one hundred thousand troops who have never been on a ship before going through the same experience before a landing invasion would not be ideal preparation.

Add to that the limited landing spots and only two opportunities throughout the year that would provide favorable weather conditions and the scale of the invasion would be more dangerous and complex than D-day. All this, and the unpredictability of war, could potentially be a recipe for disaster for Xi Jinping. He wouldn’t risk such an endeavor before consolidating his power.

Taipei Market. Credit: Alex Matsangou

When Pelosi’s plane landed in Taiwan, and China conducted their military drills, life in Taiwan continued as normal. People were waiting in long lines to eat at a popular local restaurant, waking up early to go hiking on one of Taiwan’s mountainous trails, or relaxing at one of the numerous hot springs and spas across the island.

As for me, China is definitely not one of my biggest worries. My biggest worries are driving my motorcycle in Taiwan and wondering if I would survive each trip. Another one of my worries is my mom reading this article and finding out that I consider this wonderful island my home.

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