At China's window to Taiwan, unification is only a matter of time

Taiwan's new president Lai Ching-te has vowed to safeguard the island's democracy, enraging Beijing (Greg Baker)
Taiwan's new president Lai Ching-te has vowed to safeguard the island's democracy, enraging Beijing (Greg Baker)

Chinese tourists clamber over rocks to gaze at the misty horizon that holds Taiwan, the island that Beijing insists will not be self-ruled for very much longer.

Taiwan's new president Lai Ching-te has vowed to safeguard the island's democracy, enraging Beijing, which has launched military drills and warned of war if Taipei persists in provoking it.

On Pingtan -- a Chinese island that is the closest point to Taiwan's main island -- visitors told AFP they saw the separation as only a temporary arrangement.

"We share common roots," Chen Yan, a 60-year-old woman from Wuhan in central China, said of Taiwan.

"There will definitely be unification," Chen said, adding that she hoped to visit Taiwan.

"Whether it's our mainland government or the Taiwan government, we all hope for peaceful unification as a common aspiration," she stressed.

But, Chen said, China could not "rule out that in the grand scheme of things, we could be forced to (achieve unification) in other ways."

Nearby, tourists posed for pictures in front of a sign proclaiming "the closest distance between the motherland and Taiwan island" -- a span of just 68 nautical miles (126 kilometres).

Next to one telescope, a 29-year-old tourist surnamed Xu told AFP he did not recognise Lai as the legitimate leader of Taiwan.

"At most, the president of Taiwan is a temporary leader for the region," said Xu.

"Taiwan is definitely a part of the mainland and a part of China," he added, insisting Lai "cannot be called a president."

A solemn military compound sits on a hill nearby, where bugle calls emanating from within could be heard at the park's entrance.

Propaganda signs on the side of the compound order passersby to "follow the (Communist) Party's command", and "be capable of winning battles".

Another sign showed a quote from Chinese President Xi Jinping: "The motherland must be unified, and will inevitably be unified".

- 'It will return one day soon' -

Beijing's propaganda apparatus has gone into overdrive as the drills thunder on, with a top government spokesman threatening on Thursday that the blood of "separatists" would flow.

But two hundred miles southeast, in the city of Xiamen, signs of the military drills taking place in and around the strait were scant.

Dreary rain fell as tourists milled about on the sand under umbrellas, posing for pictures in front of the seascape and haggling for jewellery with vendors.

"I saw the news about the drills when I woke up this morning," said a 43-year-old woman surnamed Liu from Sichuan Province on a multi-day group tour of the area.

"But I don't pay much attention to national matters like that," said Liu, hurrying off to snap a picture with a lighthouse that pointed out towards Taiwan's Kinmen islands just kilometres away.

Behind the beach, a message emblazoned with eight five-storey-tall red characters proclaimed: "One country, two systems; unify China".

Back in Pingtan, a 24-year-old tourist surnamed Jiang said the day of unification was near.

"Taiwan independence isn't desirable -- it will return one day and that day is soon," Jiang told AFP.

"The treasure island Taiwan has been the land and territory of our China since ancient times," he said.

"We need to let them know that we have strength. Not scared of them, but rather we want to use peaceful means to let Taiwan return to China."