Tension in Taiwan Strait Rises, Leaving Immigrants Caught in the Middle

Taiwanese passport

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the United States House of Representatives, visited Taiwan in early August, triggering a large increase in tension between Taiwan, China, and the United States. Beijing repeatedly emphasized its opposition towards Pelosi, a high-ranking politician, visiting Taiwan, believing that it challenged China’s “One China” policy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Nevertheless, the Biden administration argued that the visit was just a normal congressional delegation.

Following Pelosi’s visit, China launched military drills from August 4 to August 7, entering the Taiwan Strait and encircling the island in areas closer to the island of Taiwan. China launched 11 ballistic missiles, some of which flew over Taipei City, Taiwan’s capital. China also launched sea and air attacks near Taiwan’s coastal regions and airspace, crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China stated that they would keep conducting “regular combat readiness patrols.”

Taiwan responded with defensive naval movements and scrambled fighter jets, as well as constant messaging that the military of Taiwan had the situation under control. Other countries, such as the United States, Australia, and Japan, were concerned with the Chinese military, as these drills represented China’s punishment for Pelosi’s visit as a representative of Western interests and demonstrated Beijing’s continuing claim over Taiwan. It also meant that China’s military would have valuable practice and experience should they later move to attack Taiwan. 

For instance, Korean Airlines and Asiana Airlines canceled all flights between Seoul and Taipei on August 4 and 5. Additionally, the Japanese shipping group NYK Line avoided the Strait.

PLA’s plan to continue with frequent drills in the Strait may cause a negative impact on Taiwan’s trade and also global trade. For instance, Korean Airlines and Asiana Airlines canceled all flights between Seoul and Taipei on August 4 and 5. Additionally, the Japanese shipping group NYK Line avoided the Strait. While these events were concentrated in the short term, Taiwan’s position in the global economy was put at risk. The island nation is a crucial link in global technology supply chains. For instance, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company accounts for 90 percent of the world’s cutting-edge chip and semiconductor capacity. If Taiwan’s exports to China and Hong Kong experience disruptions, Taiwan’s economy would suffer a blow. In addition, the Taiwan Strait serves as the primary route for cargo ships traveling from China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan to the Middle East and the West. Fifty percent of the global container fleet and 88 percent of the world’s largest ships by tonnage crossed through the Strait in 2022. Rising tensions in the Strait could very well threaten global trade along this route. Paul Tsui, the managing director of the Hong Kong-based logistics services firm Janel Group, said, “If tensions in the Taiwan Strait do escalate, cost and transit times would hike significantly [and] could be even worse than Covid disruptions.”

The increase in tension in the Strait has caused anxiety among Taiwan residents. Even though most people in Taiwan do not think a war would happen at this point, some are still concerned about their safety in the future. Many new immigrants came to Taiwan for marriage, job opportunities, education, and political or economic concerns. Many have begun to feel comfortable living in Taiwan and appreciate Taiwanese culture and civil society. However, immigrants from China noted that they sometimes face discrimination for their Mainland Chinese accent and identity, amd they experience mixed feelings in discussions of China-Taiwan politics.

Immigrants’ reactions to the hostilities and potentially increasing likelihood of war are mixed. Many immigrants do not consider moving back to the mainland or other countries. They expressed that their lives are not hugely affected by this conflict; there were no changes to their daily lives except for frequent discussions surrounding politics and war. Most immigrants thought that a war was unlikely: “I don’t think China will attack [Taiwan] … if they did, they would have already attacked.” Other residents did not worry about the tension, believing that “the threat has always been there, and there’s nothing to worry about.” Thus, despite viewing the situation with seriousness, most seemed to believe that there was a low risk of serious harm to their lives and security. However, other immigrants and migrant workers have expressed some more serious worries. One migrant worker said that he has been receiving messages from his family asking about his safety and if he should leave Taiwan and return to his home country. A few immigrants noted their concerns surrounding Taiwan’s significantly smaller military capability, as compared to China: “Taiwan is small in size and in military power compared to China … if there was a war, Taiwan will be defeated in a very short period of time, probably after China drops a few bombs.” Overall, the rising tension in the Strait will affect Taiwan’s economy and the global supply chains, as well increase domestic anxieties, particularly for immigrants and migrant workers.

By Melissa Chang

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