KINMEN, TAIWAN (AFP) – Visiting Taiwan’s tiny Kinmen Islands last week, Mr Joseph Lin practised standing up on his paddleboard, drifting across from the Chinese city of Xiamen, where days earlier fighter jets had screamed overhead.
The Taiwanese islets, just 3km from China’s coast, have become a popular tourist destination, and Beijing’s massive military drills this month failed to deter domestic visitors from jetting closer to their sabre-rattling neighbour.
Mr Lin, a former soldier from southern Taiwan’s Pingtung county, refused to cancel his three-day trip, saying he believed China was only trying to appease nationalist sentiment at home with its show of force.
“I think Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine has sent a warning to (Chinese President) Xi Jinping that it would not be so easy to seize Taiwan,” the 35-year-old told AFP after his paddle under the beating summer sun.
“The price would be too high.”
Tensions in the Taiwan Strait are at their highest in decades as Beijing rages against a visit to Taipei earlier this month by United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In response, China put on unprecedented military drills, firing multiple missiles into the waters around Taiwan as well as dispatching fighter jets and warships to simulate a blockade of the island.
But even amid the flurry of military activity, tourism in Kinmen continues.
Domestic flights continue to fly to the island, tour groups and buses crowd the islands’ popular sites while visitors hoarding souvenirs dot its airport floor.
Visitors still peer out of its observation posts, walk by murals denouncing Beijing and take pictures of China from between the anti-landing spikes that dot the beach.