Meanwhile, the biggest drama in my Taiwanese family’s group chat is how I missed my car’s annual smog-check appointment and how a cockroach infestation broke out in my room. in Taipei while I was on vacation.
There is a stark disconnect between how the outside world views Taiwan (as a potential flashpoint for global war) and how we in Taiwan view Taiwan (our dear home where we live). And part of that disconnect is because the international conversation about Taiwan is filtered through a geopolitical lens and almost always in the context of China.
But what is most frustrating about the reaction to Pelosi’s visit is not the prophetic declaration of impending doom, but the expectation of fear and ensuing surprise when people realize we let’s not all panic in Taiwan – as if the calm we exude in light of unprecedented threats is a symptom of our ignorance of the facts before us.
Chinese threats are not new. They have been a part of my life, my parents’ lives, and their parents’ lives for as long as almost every member of my family can remember. In fact, Taiwan has been under threat from the People’s Republic of China for nearly 70 years. The three crises in the Taiwan Strait are proof of this.
My parents grew up in the shadow of these tensions and, in their late twenties, decided they were tired of living on the brink of war. So they immigrated to the suburbs of Los Angeles where I was born and raised. In my late twenties, I did the exact opposite of what they did and moved permanently to Taiwan as a newlywed to start a life with my husband.
I find Taipei’s nationalized health care, sleek public transit system, and low rents to be a vast improvement over living in California. Even my parents – who are nearing retirement now – spend the majority of their time in Taiwan because they find it a much safer and comforting place.
Our laid-back attitude in Taiwan may be misinterpreted as complacency, but we are not oblivious to the threats that lie in wait. China threatened “resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity”. On Tuesday, Taiwan’s presidential office reported a cyberattack on its website.
But as a Taiwanese friend said, the Chinese threat is like a cancer in remission that continually threatens to return. We have been infected with it for decades and are fully aware that it could very well kill us this time. However, these are long-standing issues that Taiwanese have been raising for years – usually on deaf ears.
Taiwan has applied for membership in the World Health Organization, which it has been repeatedly refused under Chinese pressure. Despite being a self-governing island, Taiwan is consistently listed as a province of China on hotel chain and international airline websites. And, over the years, Taiwan has been stripped of its diplomatic allies one by one as political leaders are swayed by Chinese investments.
On the contrary, I dislike the seemingly performative panic expected of the Taiwanese people as we try our best to lead normal lives. Because if the world really cares about Taiwan’s well-being, then give us a seat at the table.
Pelosi’s visit is a very welcome gesture of solidarity, but the hyperbolic alarm bells ringing in the wake of his visit only work to China’s advantage and reinforce the illusion that Taiwan is not a democratic country with its own laws and borders. Many criticize Pelosi’s visit as upsetting the delicate balance of geopolitics, but lawmakers have every right to visit the island and have done so many times in the past, despite Chinese anger.
Taiwan is not provoking anyone and, according to a recent government-commissioned poll, most people in Taiwan – including current leaders – support maintaining some form of status quo for the time being, which means “no unification, no independence and no use of force.” It is a gray area in which Taiwanese sovereignty is continually challenged, even as Taiwan has proven to be a source of tenuous stability.
Taiwan has never been ruled by the People’s Republic of China in its history, and the amplification of China’s insistence on unification and its temper tantrums sets a terrible precedent. The Chinese government is solely responsible for the heightening of tensions, and the hushed calm of the Taiwanese people compared to the violent rhetoric pushed by the Chinese state is a metaphor for this.
Our lives in Taiwan don’t revolve around cross-strait relations. We don’t see ourselves as “a stark rock in a typhoon-laden sea” or “the most dangerous place on Earth”. On the contrary, we are more focused on slowly opening and easing Covid-19 restrictions after two years of strict pandemic measures.
I don’t think about China regularly, and I constantly have to remind myself that any anxiety I feel about the consequences of Pelosi’s visit is influenced from outside. I asked my Taiwanese friends to reassure me, and they too told me that no one around them was talking about Pelosi’s visit. “I’m sure China and their trolls are going to be pissed about this,” my friend joked.
When Pelosi’s plane departed for Taiwan earlier today, I received an influx of news from my family. A family friend helped me do this smog check and did an oil change for good measure. Cockroach traps have also been installed in my apartment. Personally, I am particularly pleased with the cockroach traps.