'No place to hide' from war on Taiwan's frontline

STORY: Underneath the surface of Taiwan's otherwise peaceful Matsu Islands lie deep, extensive tunnels -- a permanent mark of the ever-present threat of war.

The small, sleepy archipelago is just off the coast of China, making it Taiwan's frontline in case of any conflict.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own.

And for many residents here, the threat of a Chinese invasion has felt all the more imminent as Beijing steps up military exercises around Taiwan, in the wake of a high-profile diplomatic visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“Taiwan is a very small island. If they really want to start a war, there would be no place to hide. No matter how many tunnels we have, if they (China) really occupied (Taiwan), there would be no use in having tunnels, as they can still find you.”

For local residents like Dora Liu, the heightened Chinese military activity in recent weeks is a pertinent reminder that their beloved hometown has never really been safe.

Home to a major military base, the Matsu Islands were regularly bombarded by China at the height of the Cold War, and have always been at risk of Chinese invasion.

If Taiwan was to be invaded, Huang Tzu-Chuan, a visitor from the city of Taoyuan, says the choice for him is clear.

“If on any given day such a thing (a Chinese invasion) were to happen, I am of course willing to fight for my country. It doesn't matter if I might not be very good when it comes to warfare, I will think of ways and do my utmost best to help defend this country from China.”

But Lin Te-chien, the local mayor, says if war breaks out, there might not be much that locals can do.

“There are some things which us common people cannot control, including the (political) circumstances, frankly we are not the ones in charge. We are in a passive situation, and if things (like a war) really happen, we'll find a way to deal with it.”

Despite the recent tensions, the Matsu Islands have remained a fashionable and popular destination for many Taiwanese -- and visitors continue to flood in.