Ask most Taiwanese people where the Wuqiu islands are. Chances are that the majority will have never heard of them.
A set of small islands under the administration of Kinmen, the government of Taiwan seems to be doing its best to make sure that they are forgotten, perhaps to reduce the potential blow should they be invaded and annexed by the PRC.
It is a place for which the connections with the rest of Taiwan and even with Kinmen have been severed. The island was discussed to be commissioned as a site to dump Taiwan’s nuclear waste, although this idea was rejected. Since then, there are still no public ferries or flights to the island whatsoever, unlike any of Taiwan’s other offshore islands.
Taiwan Public Service television states that the only modes of transportation, helicopter or military vessel, require Ministry of Defense clearance for access unless one has set their household registration in the islands. This has meant that perhaps most of the 400 citizens registered to live there are not actually full-time residents, but keep their household registration on the islands to prevent being permanently exiled due to government policies that seem deliberately focused on isolating it.
Even some of the few commercial boats departing from Taichung port restrict boarding to those who are either officially registered as residents or military personnel.
This has led to treatment of the island being labelled “under a Democratic ‘Iron Curtain’” as it is inexplicably closed to the outside world despite its civilian population.
There seem to be few public services offered to its residents, other than medical services like vaccination for the few people who live there.
The government website is sparse, and there seems to be little online discussion of the islands, making one wonder if there is even internet or cell service on the tiny islands like is provided on almost all of the Matsu islands.
One must wonder if their isolation is caused by the geographic location of the islands, or whether this is a deliberate choice by the state to make the island a forgotten, and thus disposable pawn in the speculation about the PRC invasion and annexation of outer islands as a precursor to war against Taiwan itself.
An interview with a Taiwanese army physician who had been deployed to Wuqiu for the better part of a year revealed that the local population residing there full-time is usually less than 100. The source said that as the larger island is home to multiple military installations, locals prefer to spend most of their time on the smaller island, and most of their homes are there. The limited local economy of Wuqiu is based largely on selling food and drinks to the military units posted to the island, including milk tea and fried chicken patties, but they are also allowed to use their boats in the vicinity including for fishing. Because of the strong winds, there are no large trees on the island, so foliage appears sparse. They said that because of the limited population and small posting, the army medical staff on the island was often idle and that the locals could seek treatment at the military clinic free of charge. He confirmed that other than those whose household registration is on the island, that civilians are denied access.
Anyone with information about the islands, in terms of its governance, population, or politics, is welcome to contact us through social media to share whatever they can so that more Taiwanese become aware of the islands, and if the government changes its mind could potentially visit this part of their own country in the future.
Staff writer: Ari B