Hong Kong's today, Taiwan's tomorrow? Military drills show threat from China is felt in Taipei

What used to be an annual rehearsal has become a show of readiness. For 36 years Taiwan has staged its military drills, with a day dedicated to a mock invasion from China. Never has that day felt more important, the threat more real.

The recent crackdown in Hong Kong has shown how aggressive and impatient China has become with its autonomous territories. It’s imposition of the National Security Law at the beginning of this month has already prompted thousands of Hong Kongers to consider leaving and prompted the arrest or intimidation of anyone who dares to speak out in support of democracy or worse, independence.

The Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee fled to Taipei last year. He and five colleagues were taken into Chinese custody in 2015 and interrogated for months about the books and magazines they were selling, some of which contained details of the secrets and scandals of Communist Party officials.

He has found sanctuary in Taiwan and reopened his bookshop, Causeway Books. Following the introduction of the new National Security Law in Hong Kong he has begun working to help Hong Kongers follow in his footsteps.

Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee fled to Taipei last year but feels he is safe there. Credit: ITV News

For now, at least, it can provide an escape. Mr Lam says he feels much safer in Taiwan, and he believes China won’t risk an invasion because of the destabilising effect it would have in the region.

Compared to Hong Kong, Taiwan has greater freedom from the mainland. It does enjoy democratic elections. In January of this year President Tsai was voted back in for a second term. One of her main pledges was to protect the country from China. She attended the military drills today and spoke of the country’s need to show its strength and determination in face of the enemy.

Taiwan's Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) launches flares during the 36th Han Kung military exercises in Taichung City. Credit: AP

Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province and President Xi has gone further than any other Chinese leader to declare he will achieve unification, by force if necessary. In Beijing we spoke to a prominent hardliner, Li Su, from the Modern Think Tank.

He told us “Hong Kong’s today, is Taiwan’s tomorrow”. He claims an invasion could happen as early as next year. That is an extreme view, and highly unlikely, but it is an idea, a threat, which the Chinese Government is happy to permeate.

China hardliner, Li Su, from the Modern Think Tank told us 'Hong Kong’s today, is Taiwan’s tomorrow'. Credit: ITV News

This afternoon I asked the Chinese Foreign Ministry if a timetable had been set for unification. She would not be drawn on that, but she did appear to openly mock the Taiwanese military and its ‘’over-confidence’’ in thinking it could stand up against China. The trend she said was clearly for unification and Beijing was rock solid in that intent.

China is facing an international backlash for its handling of the Covid-19 outbreak. It is locked in a trade war, some say beginnings of a new Cold War, with the United States. This week UK joined the list of countries including Canada and Australia, threatened with retaliation for ‘’anti-China’’ policies.

A BGM-71 anti-tank missile is fired during the 36th Han Kung military exercises in Taichung City, central Taiwan. Credit: AP

The Chinese Government has forged ahead with the National Security Law in Hong Kong, a law described as the death knell of the ‘one country, two systems’ under which the city is guaranteed its autonomy from the mainland.

Under President Xi Jinping China appears to have become increasingly bold, tolerant of conflict and assertive in is territorial ambitions. Taiwan is facing an intimidating enemy. If China decides to invade, the world’s largest army would be landing on its shores.