Publisher’s note: Clarissa Wei is a Taiwanese-American journalist in Taipei. Her first cookbook “Made in Taiwan” will be published by Simon Element in 2023. Wei tweets at @dearclarissa. The opinions expressed in this article are her own.
() — As news of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s arrival in Taiwan grabs headlines, I’ve been hit with a virtual flurry of messages from well-meaning acquaintances in the West who are genuinely concerned about my safety.
Meanwhile, the biggest drama in my Taiwanese family’s group chat currently is how I missed my annual car smog check appointment and how a cockroach infestation arose in my room in Taipei while I was on vacation.
Sometimes I find myself alternating between two realities: one submerged in existential fear in the face of a possible armed conflict and the other with a slight concern about my situation with the cockroach while life goes on as normal. That is, until I realize that political rhetoric comes almost exclusively from abroad and that most people in Taiwan seem undeterred. Taiwanese politicians have also kept quiet about Pelosi’s visit.
There is a shocking disconnect between how the outside world perceives Taiwan (as a possible flashpoint for world war) and how we in Taiwan view Taiwan (our beloved home where we live). And part of that disconnect is because the international conversation about Taiwan is filtered through a geopolitical lens and almost always in the context of China.
But the most frustrating thing about the reaction to Pelosi’s visit is not the prophetic statement of an imminent end, but rather the expectation of fear and surprise that follows when people realize that we are not all in panic in Taiwan, as if the calm we exude in Taiwan in the face of unprecedented threats is a symptom of our ignorance of the facts before us.
China’s threats are nothing new. They have been a part of my life, my parents’ lives, and their parents’ lives for as long as almost any member of my family can remember. In fact, Taiwan has been under threat from the PRC for nearly 70 years. The three Taiwan Strait crisis are proof of it.
My parents grew up in the shadow of these tensions and, in their early 20s, decided they had had enough of living on the brink of war. So, they migrated to the suburbs of Los Angeles, where I was born and raised. In my late 20s, I did the exact opposite of what they did and moved permanently to Taiwan as a newlywed to start a life with my husband.
I find Taipei’s nationalized health care, elegant public transportation system, and low rents a vast improvement over life in California. Even my parents, who are now approaching retirement, spend most of their time in Taiwan because they find it to be a much safer and more comforting place.
Our relaxed attitude in Taiwan may be misconstrued as complacency, but we are no strangers to the threats before us. China has threatened “resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” On Tuesday, Taiwan’s presidential office reported a cyber attack on your website.
But as a Taiwanese friend put it, the Chinese threat is like a cancer in remission that continually threatens to come back. We have been infected with it for decades and we are well aware that it could very well kill us this time. However, these are long-standing issues that the Taiwanese people have been raising for years, most of the time on deaf ears.
Taiwan has pleaded the adhesion to the World Health Organization, which has been repeatedly denied amid Chinese pressure. Despite being an autonomous island, Taiwan is consistently listed as a province of China. on the websites of hotel chains and international airlines. And, over the years, Taiwan has been stripped of diplomatic allies one by one as political leaders become swayed by Chinese investment.
If anything, I am disturbed by the seemingly performative panic expected of the people of Taiwan as we do our best to live our normal lives. Because if the world really cares about Taiwan’s welfare, then give us a seat at the table.
Pelosi’s visit is a very welcome gesture of solidarity, but the hyperbolic alarms sounded as a result of her visit only play to China’s advantage and support the illusion that Taiwan is not a democratic country with its own laws and borders. Many criticize Pelosi’s visit for alter the delicate balance of geopolitics, but lawmakers have every right to visit the island and have done so many times in the past, despite Chinese anger.
Taiwan is not provoking anyone and, according to a recent survey commissioned by the governmentmost people in Taiwan — including the current leadership — support keeping the status quo for the moment, which means “without unification, without independence and without the use of force”. It is a gray area in which Taiwanese sovereignty is continually questioned, even as Taiwan has proven to be a tenuous source of stability.
Taiwan never in its history it has been ruled by the People’s Republic of China, and amplifying China’s insistence on unification and its tantrums sets a terrible precedent. The Chinese government bears sole responsibility for the rise in tensions, and the subtle calm of the Taiwanese people compared to the violent rhetoric pushed by the Chinese state is a metaphor for that.
Our lives in Taiwan do not revolve around cross-strait relations. We don’t see ourselves as “an austere rock in a sea laden with typhoons” either “the most dangerous place on Earth”. If anything, we are more focused on slowly opening and loosening covid-19 restrictions after two years of strict pandemic measures.
I don’t think about China regularly and have to continually remind myself that any anxiety I feel about the fallout from Pelosi’s visit is externally influenced. I have been asking my Taiwanese friends to assure me of this, and they have also told me that no one in their circles is talking about Pelosi’s visit. “I’m sure China and her trolls are going to be mad about that,” my friend joked.
As Pelosi’s plane left for Taiwan earlier today, I received a flood of news from my family. A family friend helped me do a smog check and an oil change just in case. Roach traps have also been installed in my apartment. Personally, I am especially excited about roach traps.