China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan in recent weeks, flying dozens of warplanes near the self-ruled island in a show of strength that has put the entire region on edge.
But at a park in the Taiwanese capital on Thursday, the topic of conversation was about anything but the potential for conflict between Beijing and the island it considers part of its territory.
Huang and Chang, both grandmothers in their 80s, said they had spent the morning with friends chatting about snacks, tea and whether they should do some exercise.
War is not something they worry about, they said.
“We don’t worry about it at all. The threat has always been there and there’s nothing to worry about. If it were going to happen, it would’ve had happened a long time ago,” said Huang, who said she preferred to be called Grandma Huang.
Their relaxed attitude stands in stark contrast to recent military maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait and terse statements from leaders in mainland China and Taiwan, which have been governed separately since the end of a civil war more than seven decades ago.
So far in October alone, Beijing has sent more than 150 warplanes into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), breaking daily records for such incursions, which Taipei has vowed to respond to with radio warnings, anti-aircraft missile tracking or fighter jet intercepts.
On October 9, Chinese President Xi Jinping – who has refused to rule out military force to capture Taiwan if necessary – said “reunification” between China and Taiwan was inevitable.
A day later, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said Taipei would not bow to pressure from Beijing. “Nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us,” she said, adding that the future of the democratic island should be decided by its 24 million people.
“We are all Chinese”
Taiwanese and US officials have publicly estimated that Beijing could have the capacity to invade the island within the next six years.
But on the streets of Taipei, the mood this week was mostly relaxed and confident. While a few people said they were a bit worried about threats of forced “reunification” by Beijing, many believed the Chinese government would never really go ahead with it.
“I think mainland China and Taiwan have always co-existed peacefully. There are Taiwanese people in mainland China, and there are mainland people here in Taiwan. We are all Chinese people,” said Vicky Tsai, 38, a market trader in Taipei.
The trader said military tensions didn’t really have much impact on most people’s daily lives, dismissing them as “games played by the upper class.” “I think it is more important to earn money,” she said.
Incursions by China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force into Taiwan’s ADIZ have become so routine in fact – nearly 400 since May, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry – that the sorties rarely even make front page news domestically.
“A battle of psychology”
Liu Ting-ting, who reports on the military for Taiwan’s TVBS News channel, said although tensions were rising in the region, it didn’t affect daily life.
“People are more concerned as to … whether they can put food on the table,” she said.
Liu said while she had no doubt there was a possibility Beijing might try to take Taiwan by force if it felt it had no other option, the people of the island “have no say in that.”
“There’s nothing they can do about it,” she said.
Liu described China’s military sorties as a “battle of psychology.” She said that while both Beijing and Taipei were trying to project military power, it appeared that China was aiming to instil fear in Taiwanese people.
Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged China to stop military activity around Taiwan and reiterated the US’ commitment to the island, calling it “rock solid.”
Asked whether they believed the US would help Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, opinion was divided among Taiwanese people interviewed by CNN.
Lisu Su, 34, the owner of a herbal tea shop, said Taiwan’s “strategic position” meant the US would have to help defend the island.
“As long as Taiwan does not give up on itself and has a strong defense ability, I think the United States will definitely help,” he said.
Huang and Chang, the octogenarians, were more circumspect. While they said they didn’t want a war, both believed that any potential invasion was beyond the control of the Taiwanese people.
“If it’s bound to happen, it doesn’t make a difference whether you worry about it or not,” Huang said.
Gladys Tsai contributed to this report.