Despite a government standoff, people of China and Taiwan increasingly mingle

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

SHANGHAI - China considers Taiwan a renegade province and keeps more than 1,000 missiles pointed at the island. Taiwan stockpiles American weapons to defend itself. And the standoff remains the longest-running irritant in Washington's relations with Beijing.

But the unresolved rivalry across the narrow Taiwan Strait masks a different reality on the ground. In many ways -- economics, culture, family ties -- China and Taiwan are rapidly becoming closely intertwined, making the chances of a military confrontation seem increasingly remote.

More than a million Taiwanese now live in China full time -- about half of them in the Shanghai area -- running factories, starting restaurants, attending universities, buying property.

There are 270 regularly scheduled flights each week between Chinese and Taiwanese cities, and they are almost always fully booked. The number of weekly flights is set to grow to more than 400 in a few weeks.

Many Taiwanese living in China are too young to have known China as a hostile neighbor; rather, they see a vast marketplace.

"I could see it was happening around me, people were moving to China," said Tingting Yang, 39, who came to Shanghai from Taipei seven years ago and runs a public relations company. "They don't need to do anything militarily. Taiwan is already close to China. And getting closer."

Taiwanese in China are also building personal ties, getting married and having children.

"I think it's weird I ended up with a Chinese guy," said Chiang Chun-mei, 38, whose father fled China with the Nationalist Kuomintang army in 1949. She came to China to work in the hotel business, got married and is expecting her first child. "Both of us have to compromise a lot," she said. "Now he has to watch Taiwanese news with me every day."

Taiwanese men speak of the irony of being taught during military service to see China as the enemy. "We were trained to land in China on a marine landing craft with rifles and tanks," said Martin Liou, 51, who was an officer in the Taiwanese army and later set up Amway's warehouse and factory network in China. "Instead of a rifle, I came with a briefcase."

Taiwanese culture has also invaded mainland China, from soap operas to the accent and slang being mimicked by teenage girls in Shanghai.

The wave goes the other way, as well, though it is more limited. Chinese are increasingly traveling as tourists to Taiwan -- 800,000 of them so far this year. For now, they must go with organized tours, but later this year, the rules will allow individual travel.

Liou, Amway's vice president for Greater China, last year organized the largest group of Chinese to visit Taiwan -- and the first ship to sail directly between the two sides in 60 years -- when he took 10,000 Chinese Amway distributors and their families on a week-long cruise to the island.

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