China and Taiwan: Love and longing across the strait

Shanshan had never met anyone from Taiwan before January last year.

The 24-year-old, from Changsha City in central China, had also not really paid much attention to news about the self-governing island, which her country believes is Chinese territory and has promised to take one day.

But then she fell in love – she met her Taiwanese boyfriend playing online video games. They started chatting for hours, long talks during which she discovered he was “gentle and sensitive”.

But even as Shanshan and her partner Guodong share sweet messages across the Taiwan Strait – preparing to meet her parents during the Chinese New Year festival – their governments are trading a ramped-up war of words in the run-up to Taiwan’s presidential elections on Saturday.

China’s President Xi Jinping has cast the decision at Taiwan’s ballot box as a choice between war and peace. Under his leadership, Beijing has taken an ever sharper, firmer and often more aggressive tone towards the democratically-governed island, warning the world that it alone will decide how and when unification will happen.

However, despite regular military activities in the Taiwan Strait, President Xi has also repeatedly offered “peaceful reunification”, while Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office maintains that “both sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family”.

But those most likely to listen to this message are its own people – not those living across the strait.

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