Is Taiwan the region’s next and perhaps bigger flashpoint? As protests in Hong Kong take to the streets to fight the rising power of China, a younger generation of Taiwanese is also confronting an increasingly hardline attitude from its nearest neighbour.
Taiwan and China have been at loggerheads since the island broke away from the mainland when the civil war ended 70 years ago but there’s a new militancy in China’s rhetoric towards what it sees as its renegade province.
In June this year, a senior Chinese General publicly issued this warning: ‘If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, our military has no choice but to fight at all costs – for national unity’.
In Death Metal Diplomacy, correspondent Bill Birtles profiles a people and a country under increasing pressure as China’s power and ambitions in the region grow.
He meets rock star and politician Freddy Lim, the charismatic Lim is famous amongst young people as the front man for cult death metal band Chthonic but now he’s pushing his message of Taiwanese independence to a broader audience.
Banned from playing in Hong Kong and on the mainland, Lim’s stage is his political platform. ‘“Only if Taiwanese are united can we overcome all difficulties’, Lim screams to thousands of fans at a recent concert who hold up independence banners.
But the reality of living in the shadow of it’s old enemy means Taiwan still operates as if on a war footing.
We capture emergency air raid drills, which see busy streets empty within minutes. We’re there for the country’s annual war games, meant to showcase the strength of Taiwan’s military but in fact revealing the opposite. And we explore China’s hearts and minds campaign, which, Taiwan says, deploys the weapons of disinformation, fake news and mainland cash to shape national debate.
And we visit the Taiwanese islands of Kinmen, its last outpost against the mainland, where only a five kilometre strait separates it from China. Kinmen tea shop owner Wang Ling welcomes the hordes of Chinese tourists who visit but feels nervous as tensions rise between the two neighbours. “If China really invaded Kinmen, I would probably move away’, she says.
Echoing the voices of Hong Kong’s young protestors, Freddy Lim sums up the mood: “We have no choice. We can’t give up because Taiwan is our home. We have nowhere to escape. We just have to try to protect our way of life.”
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Foreign Correspondent is the prime-time international public affairs program on Australia’s national broadcaster, ABC-TV. We produce half-hour duration in-depth reports for broadcast across the ABC’s television channels and digital platforms. Since 1992, our teams have journeyed to more than 170 countries to report on war, natural calamity and social and political upheaval – through the eyes of the people at the heart of it all.