China’s hopes for unification with Taiwan endure on nearby Pingtan

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China’s hopes for unification with Taiwan endure on nearby Pingtan

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A man rests beside a Chinese flag painted on a boat on a beach on Pingtan Island, the closest point in China to Taiwan’s main island, in China’s southeast Fujian province, on January 13, 2024, the day of Taiwan’s Presidential election. — AFP pic

PINGTAN, China, Jan 13 — On a windy seafront promenade in south China’s Pingtan, people basked in the bright sunlight and looked east through binoculars towards Taiwan, the island their country’s leadership have vowed to seize one day.

Millions of Taiwanese people headed to the polls today to vote for a new leader of the democratic island, in an election marked by the looming threat from an increasingly bellicose China.

But many are shrugging off warnings from Beijing — voting instead with more local issues in mind like housing and the economy.

Yet on Pingtan, the closest point in China to Taiwan’s main island, some locals said they were convinced that the self-ruled territory would one day be brought into the fold.

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“Hong Kong has returned, Macau has returned, it’s just Taiwan,” Chen Suqing, a 75-year-old retired businessman told AFP.

His views echo those of the ruling Communist Party: that Taiwan is part of China and must be returned if the country is to reverse a “century of humiliation” that saw it dismembered by foreign powers.

Previous Chinese leaders had pledged to reunify the country, he said — and time was running out.

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“We must liberate Taiwan in this generation,” he said.

“If Taiwan is not unified and becomes independent, we will fight.”

A man feeds his doves on a beach on Pingtan Island, the closest point in China to Taiwan’s main island, in China’s southeast Fujian province, on January 13, 2024, the day of Taiwan’s Presidential election. — AFP pic

A man feeds his doves on a beach on Pingtan Island, the closest point in China to Taiwan’s main island, in China’s southeast Fujian province, on January 13, 2024, the day of Taiwan’s Presidential election. — AFP pic

‘Peaceful reunification is best’

But war seems a long way away in Pingtan, a popular tourist destination in the summer, while strong seasonal winds and chilly temperatures in the winter make it a quiet place in January.

Two locals said they hadn’t heard of any election happening today — reflective of the broad lack of coverage the election has garnered from the mainland’s state-controlled media.

Others had strong views.

“Our hope is that both sides of the strait will develop peacefully,” said Gao, a retired Communist Party cadre who only gave his surname.

“Peaceful reunification is best. It has been 75 years since (China’s) liberation, and everyone is looking forward to peaceful reunification of the two sides,” he said.

Chen agreed, saying he “hoped” the candidate for the opposition, Beijing-leaning Kuomintang party — Hou Yu-ih — would defeat ruling Democratic Progressive Party candidate and front-runner Lai Ching-te. Beijing has denounced Lai as a dangerous separatist.

“The Kuomintang also isn’t that great, but I hope Hou Yu-ih can win,” the man said.

In town, restaurants specialising in fresh seafood dishes — a major draw for tourists from other parts of China — sat mostly empty during lunchtime as some people went about their errands.

On the beach, others posed for pictures with a bevvy of white doves as kitesurfers coasted across the cyan-coloured bay and families strolled with children on the white sands.

One group gazed out east into the sea, sporting red plastic bags on their shoes.

There were some hints of the cross-strait tensions, however — AFP journalists early today morning saw a Chinese military jet flying overhead. — AFP

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