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No reason for war with China, say Taiwan clerics

Bishop Martin Su Yao-wen of Taichung says 'people are a little scared, but they don't think anything will happen'
People crossing a street in Taipei on March 31, 2021

People crossing a street in Taipei on March 31, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 06, 2023 05:01 AM GMT
Updated: June 06, 2023 05:08 AM GMT

China has escalated patrols and surveillance around Taiwan and has expanded the number of military vessels in the Taiwan Strait, increasing speculation that it might try to take over Taiwan.

But many of those who live in Taiwan are "accustomed to this situation after 70 years," said Bishop Martin Su Yao-wen of Taichung, Taiwan.

"The Chinese government wants to show its military power, so they send an airplane every day to demonstrate that. The Taiwanese are -- I don't want to say scared -- but they are scared at times," Bishop Su told a U.S. journalist in early May.

"Unless they (Chinese officials) have lost their mind, there's no reason at this time to have a war. People are a little scared, but they don't think anything will happen," he said.

Many people in Taiwan and China consider themselves one nation, although they have been governed separately since 1949, when the Chinese government relocated to Taiwan during a war with the Chinese Communist Party.

Taiwan, or the Republic of China, is an island nation of 23 million people, slightly smaller than Delaware and Maryland combined. China's mainland, or the People's Republic of China, is almost as big as the United States, but China has more than a billion more people than the U.S. Each government considers itself the legitimate government of "one China."

Maryknoll Father Joy Tajonera, who has spent 22 of the last 25 years in Taiwan, told OSV News the increased rhetoric and international tensions do not really affect ordinary people in Taiwan.

"The situation of us who are living here, it's normal; we don't lose our sleep thinking there's going to be an invasion tonight or tomorrow," Father Tajonera said in late May. "Those things you hear daily -- that's there's an incursion of the Chinese military," are just part of ordinary life, he said in an interview from Taichung.

What does worry the Taiwanese? Father Joy said they worry about the economy and that "there are more people dying than children being born." People think if peace and stability are upset, it will affect the economy, he said. In addition, Taiwan's population over age 65 is expected to reach 41% by the year 2060.

"Taiwan relies on migrant workers to come and do the work," Father Tajonera told OSV News, noting that "the migrants in Taiwan are young people; they're in their 20s and 30s and 40s."

"The Catholic Church in Taiwan is not growing, because the population is not growing," the priest said, noting that migrants make up about 30% of Taiwan's Catholic population, which is less than 1% of the total population.

The Holy See is one of only 13 countries with diplomatic ties to Taiwan, and earlier this year, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wrote to Pope Francis and said that "armed confrontation is absolutely not an option." She emphasized that bilateral dialogue was the best way to keep peaceful relations across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. The Taiwanese government reports that in 2021, the value of cross-strait trade was $273 billion.

Father Tajonera said although not everyone trusts the Chinese government, at least with dialogue, war can be avoided.

"I think all of us don't want any war or conflict or invasion," he said.

But he said when he reads the news, he sees that the United States and other Western countries keep "pushing the envelope."

"Western countries have a way of putting themselves in the middle," he said.

During a defense forum in Singapore June 3 and 4, Chinese and U.S. officials accused each other of increasing tension in the region. Without naming names, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu said some countries were increasing military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region and were "meddling in other countries' internal affairs." U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned China against bullying and against intercepting planes above the South China Sea, an important maritime area whose waters include claims by seven countries.

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