Where Taiwan Touches China
The Matsu Islands are the strategic front line in the case of a potential invasion
An outpost between Taiwan and China and the front line of a potential war between Taipei and Beijing. The archipelago of the Matsu Islands is arguably the most strategic front in the world. Situated a mere twenty or so kilometres from the coast of mainland China, the archipelago is home to naval bases and missile sites. “The process of unification can no
longer be put off,” stated Xi Jingping in 2019, “because the Taiwanese independence goes against history.” So, if ever the Chinese dragon invades Taiwan it will all begin in the Matsu Islands, where Chinese naval encroachments and incursions into Taiwanese airspace have been taking place for years. The local population is undeterred, however.
Over time they have become accustomed to military exercises: explosions and gunshots can be heard daily and they have even transformed the islands’ numerous tunnels and bunkers into tourist attractions. Before the Covid-19 pandemic the islands attracted up to 200 thousand visitors a year. Today that number is just under half.
They come almost exclusively from Taiwan and disembark here from ferries or planes to taste the local kaoliang liquor (a traditional brew made from sorghum) and to photograph the enormous nationalist slogans left over from the time of General Chiang Kai-shek. These include statements such as “We will retake the continent,” “We will fight until the end,” and “Let’s kill Mao the traitor.” Once populated by fishermen, the Matsu Islands, which number 19 in total but only five of which are inhabited, survive thanks to visitors and the soldiers who guard the border.
There are three thousand military personnel in total, a quarter of the population, and they can be seen occasionally jogging or enjoying a coffee at the archipelago’s only Starbucks.
In recent years, in spite of the potential danger, a number of young people from Taiwan have decided to open cafes or small hotels. “The war? We don’t think about it,” says Ren Huiyin, an employee at a travel agency. “We focus mainly on guided tours, and we hope that the Chinese tourists blocked by the pandemic will soon return. The Matsu Islands are an intriguing border destination also for them.”