Chen Chi-chuan was grateful when his hotel near the epicenter of the Chinese coronavirus epidemic offered him three free meals a day, from rice porridge breakfasts to specially prepared vegetarian dinners, while he was prevented from leaving China for go back to Taiwan.
But after almost a month in the same room as the state-owned Vienna International Hotel in Shiyan city, six hours’ drive from the epicenter of the Wuhan epidemic, his patience for China is dwindling.
Over the past two years, China has sought to win the affection of Taiwanese citizens by attracting them to China for work and investment. The Chinese economy is growing faster and Taiwanese can earn more in China with professional jobs.
But the aggravation is increasing among nearly 1,000 Taiwanese visitors, investors and workers stranded behind closed doors this month in the epidemic area.
The stranded Taiwanese claim to notice a series of maddening differences in China. They cite state television news reports on details, controlled Internet access, the lack of adequate drugs, a ban on going out and blocking them from returning home from the epidemic area, as Americans and Europeans did.
They are unable to leave, he was told, due to disputes between Beijing and Taipei over how to organize charter flights.
Chen, a 51-year-old electrician and pipe installation contractor, must fill five anti-cholesterol prescriptions for a long-term heart condition. He asked relatives in Taiwan to send him the drug because he has no access to them in China.
Suspected of receiving incomplete news on the disease formally called COVID-19 even if it is quarantined in the epidemic area. The Chinese TV channels he watches in his room contain only state-controlled information he fears can minimize the severity of the epidemic. The Chinese Internet is no better, he says.
“Chinese TV is really boring and media news is not as free and open as it is in Taiwan.” Chen said via the WeChat app on social media monitored by the Chinese state. “We are really restless here, so our moods get worse.”
He and his his 48-year-old wife traveled to China last month to visit his relatives. Now they watch TV dramas all day in them bedroom with two single beds. A hotel staff would block any effort to leave the room. Everyone in the hotel is confined to their rooms until further notice, he said. They shouldn’t use the lobby or the piano bar; mixing with others would risk spreading the disease. They see police officers on the street from their 24th floor window.
Liu Ruo-yu, 40, also worries about receiving insufficient information. She arrived with her two children on January 22 to visit her parents in the city of Huangshi, adjacent to Wuhan, and now she is not allowed to go through the door of the apartment except every three days to receive food deliveries inside the seven-storey apartment complex block. He once saw signs that four people overall had caught the virus. He doesn’t know who they are or where they went.
“I’m really nervous,” he said.
Liu is confined to a three-bedroom apartment with her 12-year-old son, 14-year-old daughter, parents, brother and 2-year-old son. It is crowded, straining people’s patience sometimes.
Liu, a Taiwanese citizen naturalized through marriage, joined a social media group with 200 other Taiwanese quarantined in or nearby Wuhan on January 25. That day was the lunar new year, an important Chinese holiday and why she came back to visit. Her husband, a teacher, has fallen behind.
“The closure of the city is more stringent every day,” he said last Tuesday through WeChat.
Her children can play video games only most of the day. And they don’t like food. “They are just facing,” he said.
China feeds and hosts the stranded Taiwanese, said Chung Chin-ming, who is the president of the Strait of Assn Chinese Marriage Coordination. in Taipei and part of a protest group urging the Taiwanese government to help people return home. But his compatriots and stranded women “are getting restless and I’m sure it’s a problem,” he said.
The Taiwanese government will take back its citizens if they remain in quarantine on the island for 14 days.
But the only direct charter flight to Taiwan to date has left on February 4th. Three of the 247 people who boarded the plane were not on a list that Taiwan gave to the Chinese authorities and one tested positive for the virus. Before other charters can depart, the Government of Taiwan’s Continental Affairs Council wants China to reach an agreement with Taiwan that passengers – for example the elderly or people with chronic health problems – should have a priority. greater for the return. Chinese officials contested whether some people on the lists should have left first.
China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan despite the island’s self-government for over 70 years and insists that the two sides will eventually unify.
As a result, Chinese officials pay particular attention because of the potential for a “public relations nightmare,” said Yun Sun, senior associate of the East Asian program at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.
In 2018, the Chinese government began offering dozens of incentives to work, study, and invest in Taiwanese citizens as a way to get them interested in unification. Young Taiwanese entertainers, technology professionals and executives of multinational companies have moved to the mainland for wages that ManpowerGroup Employment Consultancy claims on average 1.2 – 1.3 times higher than at home, prompting the government to Taiwan to respond with its own incentives for locals to stay.
Hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese citizens have lived in China since last year.
“From the mainland [Chinese] from a government perspective, they have every reason to treat these people with the best conditions they can offer, because they want to buy people’s hearts and minds in Taiwan, “said Sun.
But the ongoing quarantine angers the 1,000 Taiwanese who ventured to Hubei province in mid-January to travel, lunar new year family reunions, and visits to work-related facilities, including factories.
Communication between the two governments is difficult because China broke off the high-level dialogue with Taiwan in 2016 after an independence party president took office in Taipei. Last year’s Taiwanese government polls showed that Taiwanese continue to oppose unification with China.
Now neither side wants the other to look good, Sun said.
“As soon as I open my eyes every morning, I check the news,” said Liu. “But every time he is alone,” We are organizing things, we are organizing things. “The two sides are kicking us back and forth. I can’t stand it.”
Jennings is a special correspondent.