Retired lecturer Donald Ho was out for his morning stroll in a busy downtown park Sunday, anxious about what Chinese jets and ships holding war games around Taiwan meant for freedom in the self-ruled island. 

"I am a little worried, I would be lying to you if I say that I am not," the 73-year-old told AFP in Taipei.

"The problem is sovereignty. I want independence but they (China) just regard Taiwan as a province," he said. 

Beijing launched three days of military drills on Saturday dubbed "Joint Sword" to rehearse the encirclement of the island after a meeting between Taiwan's president and the US House Speaker.

It was the biggest military action by Beijing around Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory, since launching huge drills last August following a visit by former House speaker Nancy Pelosi.


"If a war broke out, both sides will suffer quite a lot. Just like the situation in Ukraine." 

Other Taiwanese were out stretching their legs or practising tai-chi in Daan Park unbowed by the new military movements offshore.

"Go to the city, everybody is eating, dancing, laughing, everything," said retired businessman Jasper Lee, 75.

"China, they are stuck in their brain, they think Taiwan belongs to them."

- 'Like brothers' -

Taiwanese of all ages were keen to shake off the Chinese threat while reiterating that being free was paramount. 

"We have to keep our life going. We cannot just stop our life," said 16-year-old student Nathan Green, a dual Australian-Taiwanese national.

"I don't like a government that is like a prison. I don't like a government that wants to control our people. I like a government that is free," he said.

His friend Wison Su, 16, said he wants to join the army after finishing school because he was a patriot like his brother, who has served for three years.

"I don't like the government but I don't hate the people in China," he said.

While sentiment among the park-goers was mostly opposed to the Chinese Communist Party, some felt a kinship with mainlanders living under Xi Jinping's assertive rule.


"I feel safe in Taiwan. I don't think they will attack. We are like brothers," said 57-year-old teacher John Shih. 

"If they bomb Taiwan, the relationship is broken forever."

Even in the relative calm, Taiwanese residents were clear that the liberties they enjoy are sacrosanct. 

"Freedom is maybe the most important thing for a country," said Green. 

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