China turns firepower to soft power to try to win tiny Taiwan-held island

 Soldiers on the tiny Taiwan-held island of Kinmen regularly conduct military drills repelling amphibious attacks by Chinese Communist troops from the mainland, but the problem may soon be free-for-all landings of Chinese shoppers and businessmen.

Reuters| Updated: Oct 08, 2015, 11:12 AM IST

Kinmen, Taiwan:  Soldiers on the tiny Taiwan-held island of Kinmen regularly conduct military drills repelling amphibious attacks by Chinese Communist troops from the mainland, but the problem may soon be free-for-all landings of Chinese shoppers and businessmen.

The war games are a reminder that this place is the front line between China and Taiwan where beaches were mined and shots traded up until as recently as the mid-1970s, and that China has not renounced force to ensure it gains control of a territory it considers its own.

"If China attacks Taiwan, we will be the first to die," said Kinmen bar owner Sam Chen, 29, as he watched recent live-fire drills with fellow residents. "Of course I am worried about war, but I also hope Kinmen can build closer ties with China. It's easier for us young people to make money."

There lies the rub. Many in Taiwan, especially a newly politicized youth movement, are angry about perceived economic dominance by China, likening it to an invasion all of its own. But many also see the benefits of closer trade.

Rustic Kinmen, with a population of less than 129,000, is a half-hour ferry ride to China, but it takes an hour to fly to major Taiwan cities. Just off its shores, glass-walled high-rises wink seductively from the booming mainland port of Xiamen in one of China's most prosperous provinces.

Kinmen is eyeing closer commercial ties with China. It wants to pipe water from Xiamen and has plans to build a bridge and set up a glittering free trade zone with the city.