But over the past year, the patrols and exercises have become almost constant. “They used to do a few outings in the morning,” the retired teacher said. “Now they are also active in the afternoon and even leave more and more often at night. “
The planes were scrambled in response to growing harassment from China, which claims Taiwan as its territory and threatens to invade it if Taipei refuses to submit indefinitely. Last week, the Chinese military said it held live fire exercises in the waters and airspace southwest and southeast of Taiwan.
Beijing’s more belligerent stance has alarmed the United States, Taiwan’s unofficial protector. In March, Admiral Philip Davidson, then commander of US forces in the Pacific, said a Chinese attack on Taiwan could be launched within six years.
But on the ground in Taiwan, there is no sign of panic.
“We’re used to it,” Tsai said of the airline activity. Instead of the threat from China, she prefers to talk about pension reforms that have reduced her retirement income.
“What you are seeing is not the fear you would expect,” said Richard Bush, an expert on Taiwan at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
According to a poll released in April, only 39.6% of those polled believed China and Taiwan were heading towards a military conflict. Although this figure increased from 35% last year and only 25% in 2004, well over half of the Taiwanese population still believed that war was preventable.
While President Tsai Ing-wen and her government frequently highlight Taiwan’s plight as the target of Chinese aggression against the international community, they have done little to harden the country against an attack from Beijing, or even prepare society for the possibility of war.
Stressing that the Afghan government and military were overrun by the Taliban as the United States withdrew from the country, Tsai told his compatriots they should unite to avoid a similar fate at China’s hands. .
“Taiwan’s only choice is to make us even stronger, more united and even more determined to protect ourselves,” she wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.
But for most ordinary Taiwanese, there is hardly a glimmer of concern.
“There is a lack of discussion and a lack of a clear idea of the nature of the threat,” said Bush, who argued in a recent book that Taiwan’s democracy has failed to determine how the country can survive. and preserve his “good life”.
“What we have seen is avoiding the underlying reality, the real choices. “
Public opinion, never in favor of unification, has become more hostile towards Beijing. Since early 2019, when Chinese President Xi Jinping rejected flexibility to offer Taiwan a political deal, and during Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong autonomy, independence sentiment has reached historic highs.
Young people are even more anti-China than society as a whole, as evidenced by the 2014 Sunflower student protest movement against the previous administration’s engagement with China.
“Since 2014, people have just had this natural aversion to anything to do with China,” says Liu Kuan-yin, editor-in-chief of the English-language web edition of CommonWealth, a Taiwanese news magazine.
The government maintains that the Taiwanese want peace but know that the risk of conflict is always present.
Liu, however, accuses Tsai’s Progressive Democratic Party of channeling sentiment of patriotism and rejection from China in the wrong way.
“The government should educate the population about the military threat. But instead of doing real things, they’re just talking, telling people to hate China and love the United States and Japan, ”she said.
As Taiwan’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign gained traction this summer following donations from the United States and Japan, many Taiwanese posted photos of their vaccination records on Facebook with the words: ” Thanks, Dad America!
Critics said Tsai’s administration fueled complacency by pointing to Taiwan’s ever-stronger relationship with Washington. “The public will think we are so safe, America loves us and will come to our aid when the going comes – it takes away the urge to be self-reliant,” Liu said.
But the cause of Taiwan’s failure to deal with the military threat is not the government’s lack of leadership. The Kuomintang, the former ruling party in China that fled to Taiwan after its defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, ruled under martial law for 38 years.
Cherishing its hard-won democracy, which has created a welfare system and Asia’s most socially progressive society, the Taiwanese public has no appetite for the militarization of society or even for discussing defense.
But there are a few attempts to change this mindset.
Enoch Wu, a former special forces officer who chairs the DPP section in Taipei, partnered with Admiral Lee Hsi-ming, former Taiwanese military chief of staff, to educate the public on the how Taiwan can better resist a Chinese invasion. It also organizes safety and first aid seminars for young people.
“We receive thousands of registrations for these events. It tells me that people are aware that we are facing serious security concerns and believe in the idea that everyone can do more, ”Wu said.
But its audience remains limited and for some Taiwanese there is a sense of futility. Retired teacher Tsai Hui-chun believes that even if she doesn’t want Taiwan to be part of China, it will eventually happen.
She said, “When they do come someday, what can we do there anyway?”