Taiwan calls for unity on 60th anniversary of deadly mainland Chinese attack

As Beijing ramps up pressure on the island, Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen marks assault on Quemoy, saying ‘we will not forget the spirit of solidarity’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2018, 3:47pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2018, 11:07pm

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called for unity and vowed not to bow to pressure from Beijing on Thursday as the island marked the 60th anniversary of a deadly mainland Chinese artillery attack.

The anniversary of the assault on tiny Quemoy island, known as the “823 bombardment”, comes as Beijing steps up pressure on self-ruling Taiwan, which it sees as part of its territory to be reunified.

The mainland’s People’s Liberation Army fired 470,000 shells at the island – also called Kinmen – and nearby islets in 1958, killing 618 servicemen and civilians in an attack that lasted 44 days.

Quemoy is part of Taiwan, but lies less than 3km (2 miles) off mainland China.

“When we remember the ‘823 bombardment’ 60 years later, we will not forget the spirit of solidarity,” Tsai said on her Facebook page.

“When we face diplomatic suppression we will not forget how strong our country can be when we are united,” she added, saying that while Taiwanese people cherished peace they would not take national security for granted.

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Tensions with Beijing have worsened under Tsai because she refuses to acknowledge that Taiwan is part of “one China”.

In response, the mainland has ramped up military drills and poached Taiwan’s official diplomatic allies – El Salvador became the third this year to switch ties from Taipei to Beijing on Tuesday.

At an anniversary ceremony held in a former army bunker and combat centre in Quemoy, Taiwan’s Defence Minister Yen De-fa said today’s troops in Taiwan must again make “combat preparations” in the face of what he described as a growing military threat from the mainland.

Hundreds of soldiers, relatives and veterans, some in their 80s and 90s, gathered at a Quemoy cemetery where victims of the 1958 bombardment were buried.

Lai Jen-hsien, 83, remembered the attack.

“We were joking it was firecrackers, but then all of a sudden it was a rain of them [artillery],” said Lai, who was in the combat engineer battalion in Quemoy at the time.

He said he did not think history would repeat itself on Quemoy.

“Peace is priceless. War is ruthless. We should try our best to peacefully handle the fate of people from both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait,” Lai said.

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Beijing has sought to bring Taiwan back into the fold since nationalist troops fled to the island after their defeat by communist forces on the mainland in 1949.

Quemoy historically often found itself on the front line, although now the island is a popular tourist attraction for both mainland and Taiwanese visitors.

Its most famous souvenirs are kitchen knives made from the remnants of artillery shells.