1709525372 Xiamen the Chinese city trying to win over Taiwan

Xiamen, the Chinese city trying to win over Taiwan | International

Xiamen the Chinese city trying to win over Taiwan

Time passes peacefully on the coast of Xiamen, the closest Chinese city to Taiwan's Kinmen Archipelago. It's February, but the bright sun invites you to dip your feet in the sea. A few girls pose in front of the lens of their companions, the little ones play with the sand. For a visitor, the image is paradoxical: Not far away, the fog obscures several military ships that are slowly crossing the water. On the other side you can see the first islands of Taiwan, the democratically self-governing island that China considers an inalienable part of its territory. A few days earlier, on February 14, two Chinese fishermen drowned in these waters while being pursued by the Taiwan Coast Guard, which accused them of being in the area illegally. Although Beijing has increased patrols following the incident, there has been no escalation so far. The tensions here come as China tries to attract residents and investment from across the strait to this coastal city that almost borders Taiwan.

Shao Gao is around 50 years old. The Xiamen native has the morning free to go for a walk on the beach. “This is Taiwan,” he states, pointing at the collection of land visible in the distance. It is part of Kinmen, the group of small Taiwanese islands just five kilometers from the Asian giant, where the nationalist side stopped the advance of communist troops in 1949. That year, the losers of the Chinese Civil War established the Republic of China government-in-exile in Taipei under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek. Meanwhile, Mao Zedong founded the People's Republic of China on the mainland. It is the origin of one of today's greatest geopolitical conflicts and the place where the two great powers of the 21st century continue to clash: the United States – Taiwan's most important ally – and China.

“The Kuomintang settled in Taiwan when it lost the war, but we are all Chinese,” Shao claims, referring to Kinmen. Although he has never visited the other side of the Strait, he claims that “reunification” will happen “at some point.” “It’s the best for everyone,” he emphasizes. China views Taiwan as a rebellious province that it wants to peacefully reunify, although it has never renounced the use of force to achieve this “historic mission of the Communist Party.” And this rhetoric, which both the Chinese leadership and the state media repeat ad nauseum, is seeping into the citizens.

Last week, Wang Huning (Chinese's top Taiwan policy official after President Xi Jinping) claimed that it was crucial to “firmly combat separatism” and “firmly support patriotic forces for reunification.” His comments, made during the annual conference on Taiwan, are the first by a member of the Communist Party's top decision-making body since Taiwan's presidential election in January. Several political analysts, such as Bill Bishop, pointed out that Wang's speech was more assertive than last year's, when he limited himself to saying that Beijing should “counter separatist activities” and “firmly defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Although China had described the elections as a choice between “war and peace,” Taiwanese chose to continue on the most China-skeptical path, that proposed by the Democratic Progressive Party, which has been in government since 2016. President-elect Lai Ching-te presented himself as a guarantor of maintaining the current status quo in line with the policies of outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen. His eight years in power were marked by a lack of communication with the People's Republic, Taipei's rapprochement with Washington and growing tensions in the Strait. .

“It seems that the new Taiwanese president wants enmity with China, but that makes no sense. Taiwanese have families and businesses here,” says Shao. In September, ahead of the election, Beijing announced a plan to transform Fujian province, which includes Xiamen, into a “test zone for integrated development along the Taiwan Strait.” The project aims to use the region as a showcase to attract Taiwanese residents and companies and strengthen cooperation in industries such as electronics, petrochemicals and precision machinery.

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Xiamen is the key to this program. The coastal city with just four million inhabitants is bursting with energy and joie de vivre and invites you to linger with its multicultural and modern charm. According to China's National Development and Reform Commission, more than 10,000 Taiwanese companies (representing an investment of more than 30 billion euros) had established themselves in Fujian before the proposal was introduced. According to the Xiamen Taiwan Affairs Office, about 9,000 people reside in the coastal city, accounting for a quarter of the city's total industrial output value.

A 20-minute ferry ride from Xiamen lies Gulangyu Island, a two-square-kilometer enclave that became one of the five gateways for foreign exchange trading in the late 19th century. The fusion of East and West can be felt in every corner; Bougainvilleas and vines cover the facades of buildings of European architecture, mingling with Taoist and Buddhist temples.

Hui Min, 55, runs a restaurant that serves regional specialties. The interior is empty, but several curious people gather at the stand at the entrance. He tries to lure passers-by and sell them – at a less than modest price – his star product: a peeled, flower-shaped mango carved into a stick. “Buy this beautiful mango flower! “Perfect for photos!” he shouts as his sister cuts the fruit and gives it the special shape. Your tactics are working.

Hui, who is from Gulangyu, said many of her customers are Taiwanese. “We are the same family, we are very close!” he exclaims. In his opinion, his neighbors “love” traveling to “the mainland” because “China is much more technologically advanced and the economy is doing better.” “In Taiwan, WeChat is not used for payments. “It’s a delay,” he boasts. He claims he traveled to Taiwan to meet friends and family. “We have very strong economic and social ties,” he emphasizes. But when asked whether the election results could destroy this bond, he remains silent, averts his gaze and starts looking for new customers.

On one of Gulangyu's busiest streets, Lin, 32, and her boyfriend Yang, 35, run a handicraft shop. “This bracelet is made of blue coral stone, a mineral found on the coasts of Fujian and Taiwan,” explains Lin. “It's very easy for Taiwanese to visit the mainland, but for us, traveling to the other side is complicated,” he laments. Chinese citizens require government approval to travel to Taiwan. The permit can only be applied for at the police stations of some cities and if you have that city's hukou (the census system tied to a person's origin). The document is only valid for one entry, so you must request it and pay the fees every time you want to visit the democratic island.

“Our hearts are the same. “But now it seems our leaders don’t get along very well,” admits Lin. Yang immediately takes over the conversation. “The thing is, the Taiwanese are very proud,” he begins. “But the real problem is the United States; With its interference it has caused all the recent crises at the international level,” he attacks.

Washington gave Beijing diplomatic recognition in 1979, but maintained “unofficial” relations with Taipei and defended its “strategic ambiguity”: it sells weapons for self-defense and does not specify whether it would be its largest military ally in the event of an attack by China. During the summit in San Francisco last November, President Xi Jinping reminded his American counterpart Joe Biden that the “Taiwan issue” was the “most important and sensitive” issue in relations between the two major world economic powers.

Yang defended his country's position but said it was “very unlikely” that tensions would lead to armed conflict. “In the end, the will of the people always wins. Although it will take some time, maybe decades,” he murmurs, letting us read between the lines. “We Chinese want peace,” he adds.

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