Chen Ing-wen strides up to a rocky outcrop some 3 km from China's coast on Taiwan-controlled Kinmen island and demonstrates how as a soldier he used to shoot from there at Chinese trawlers that got too close.

"It was just to scare them — but they weren't scared," said Chen, 50, who did his military service on Kinmen from 1991 to 1993. "We were not trying to kill them, just warn them away."

Sitting on the front line between Taiwan and China, Kinmen is the last place where the two engaged in major fighting, in 1958 at the height of the Cold War. At the place where memories of war are still burned into minds decades later, now large model soldiers point guns at China from some old bunkers.