Thu, Jun 09, 2016 - Page 5 News List

Taiwan’s Kinmen leans toward China

CLEAR SENSE OF IDENTITY:A professor at National Quemoy University said that people in Kinmen are Fujianese, but are also part of the Republic of China

NY Times News Service, TOWNSHIP, Kinmen County LIEYU

Anti-landing barricades are pictured on the coast of Lieyu Township, Kinmen County, on Sept. 8 last year.

Photo: Reuters

Cold War detritus scars the white-sand beach on the island. Concrete barriers meant to halt invading tanks stand sentinel, waiting for an invasion that never came.

In the water, hundreds of rusting, sharpened steel barricades point menacingly toward the bustling Chinese city of Xiamen, whose skyscrapers poke through the midday haze a little more than 4.8km away.

The soldiers who manned the coastal defenses are long gone, though some have been replaced by life-size statues for the benefit of the many tourists who flock to the site. The most imminent danger now is to beachcombers who fail to pick up after their dogs. Signs warn they face a stiff fine: payable in New Taiwan dollars.

Kinmen County’s Lieyu Township (烈嶼), encompassing what is known as Lesser Kinmen Island, is not controlled by the People’s Republic of China, nor is the much larger Kinmen Island nearby, even though both sit on the approaches to one of China’s busiest ports.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army was never able to wrest control of the strategic islands from former Republic of China leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), who fled to Taiwan with his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) forces in 1949 after losing the Chinese Civil War to Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) communists.

Chiang, who died in 1975, still watches over the island. A statue of him, doffing his peaked cap, towers over an overgrown athletics field where cows graze. A basketball court and chin-up bars once used by front-line soldiers are slowly surrendering to the lush subtropical vegetation.

Kinmen, formerly called Quemoy, was once a household name in the US. The nationalists and communists engaged in huge artillery duels there in the 1950s, raising tensions among Washington, Beijing and Moscow as then-US president Dwight D. Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, vowed to defend Taiwan from attack.

When then-US presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were running for head of state in 1960, their disagreement about Quemoy and Matsu, a neighboring archipelago, led to one of the most famous exchanges in their debates.

Now, China and Taiwan exchange volleys of fireworks during the Lunar New Year holiday.

These smaller islands are at a crossroads, borne out by the complicated interplay among the locals, the Taiwanese government and China.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took power last month and is focused on the Taiwanese public, who are increasingly uncomfortable with talk over seven decades affirming that Taiwan is part of China.

A poll in February found that 73 percent of Taiwanese surveyed considered themselves Taiwanese, not Chinese, up from 44 percent two decades ago. Among young people, 85 percent consider themselves Taiwanese, the poll found.

Neither Kinmen nor Matsu is geographically part of Taiwan. They are portions of Chinese-controlled Fujian Province that the communists never conquered. Their existence helps to make Taiwan the Republic of China, and people interviewed there, who have prospered as trade and tourism with China have blossomed, have deep ties to China.

“Kinmen people have a very clear sense of their identity,” said Chou Yang-sun (周陽山), a professor who specializes in Chinese affairs at National Quemoy University in Kinmen. “They are Fujianese, but they are also part of the Republic of China — very different from most people in Taiwan, who support independence.”

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