(Taipei) In a park in Taipei, Donald Ho enjoys his Sunday walk. But this morning outing does not have the same flavor as usual, because around Taiwan, Chinese warships and planes are conducting large-scale military maneuvers.

“I’m a little worried, I would be lying to you if I said otherwise,” the 73-year-old former lecturer told AFP.

“The problem is sovereignty. I want independence, but (China) only sees Taiwan as a province,” he laments.

China considers Taiwan (23 million inhabitants) as a province that it has not yet succeeded in reunifying with the rest of its territory since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

On Saturday, Beijing launched three days of military maneuvers around the island, in retaliation for a meeting between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday in California.

Because under the “one China principle” that he defends, no foreign country should, in theory, have an official link with Taiwan. And any diplomatic contact provokes the ire of Beijing.

Saturday’s operation is a “total encirclement of the island” exercise, according to Chinese state television, and represents the largest military action around Taiwan since the August 2022 visit of Nancy Pelosi, predecessor by Mr. McCarthy.

“If there is war, both sides will suffer greatly. Like in Ukraine, ”says Mr. Ho.

Other Taiwanese seen in Daan Park were stretching or practicing tai chi, ignoring the presence of the Chinese military around the island.

“Go to town, everyone eats, dances, laughs, all that,” says Jasper Lee, a 75-year-old retired businessman.

“China, they’re stuck in their head, they think Taiwan belongs to them,” he says.

“You can’t just stop living,” said Nathan Green, a 16-year-old Australian-Taiwanese student who wants “free government”.

His friend Wison Su, of the same age, says he wants to join the army after his studies, out of patriotism. “I don’t like the government, but I don’t hate people in China,” he adds.

Despite their opposition to Chinese power, a few people we met at the park expressed their closeness to the mainlanders.

“I feel safe in Taiwan. I don’t think they will attack. We are like brothers,” thinks 57-year-old teacher John Shih.

“If they bomb Taiwan, the relationship will be broken forever.”

And to recall the sacrosanct values ​​of freedom in this relative calm: “It’s probably the most important thing for a country,” says Nathan Green.