Taiwanese youth voice income, housing concerns ahead of crucial elections

While cross-strait relations remain an overarching theme in Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections this weekend, many young voters are more concerned with domestic issues, such as low wages and housing, that preoccupy them as much as or even more than the threat of an invasion by the People’s Republic of China. FRANCE 24 met with several of them. 

Some 19.5 million Taiwanese are eligible to vote in the island’s presidential and legislative elections on Saturday, January 13. Some 2.8 million, or 15 percent, are aged between 20 and 29 years old. 

Voters will determine Taiwan’s next leader from among three candidates: the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s Lai Ching-te, the Kuomintang (KMT)’s Hou Yu-ih and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP)’s Ko Wen-je. 

Incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence DPP is due to step down at the end of her second consecutive term in May.     

Read moreTaiwan’s presidential election: Who are the candidates in the high-stakes vote?

Despite not being a large enough cohort to determine the outcome of an election, young people nevertheless represent a sizable chunk of Taiwan’s electorate capable of tipping the scales in a neck-and-neck race. 

With less than a day to go before the election, political groups have called on young people to return home and vote.  

Taiwan’s voting system relies on household registrations to determine voter eligibility. Despite moving to other cities for work and study, many young Taiwanese remain registered in their home town, so they must return in order to vote. 

While many have already bought tickets and packed their bags for the weekend, some remain uncertain whether they’ll cast their ballots on Saturday.  

Eligible youth participation in the past two elections ranged from 56.3 to 72.7 percent

Stagnant wages 

“I still haven’t decided yet if I’m going to vote … if I do, I’ll take the bus first thing tomorrow morning,” said Wang Miao, a 25-year-old woman working in Taipei’s IT sector.  

Wang’s hometown is in Kaohsiung, a southern port city over 400km from the capital. 

“The thing is, I don’t feel like the elections are going to change anything … Wages are low, and inflation is still high,” she said. 

IT worker Wang Miao pictured in Penghu County. © Wang Miao

While median wages in Taiwan grew 2.37 percent in 2023, average consumer prices increased by 2.5 percent over the same period, outpacing wage growth.  

“My company gave us a 1.5 percent raise last year, which is ridiculous compared to inflation,” said Xu Jing-chen, a 29-year-old engineer working in Hsinchu, a city southwest of Taipei.  

On the way back home to the coastal city of Tainan, Xu said he feels frustrated at the current politics because the available options seem unlikely to resolve the issues that young people face. 

“They’re all talking about raising the minimum wage, but I don’t make the minimum, so how does that affect me? I’m only voting out of civil duty … As far as I can tell, none of the candidates are offering any concrete solutions to improve our lives,” he said. 

While Lai proposes to increase the monthly minimum wage of publicly traded companies’ employees to 30,000 New Taiwan Dollars (NTD) (or €880.40), Hou proposes a general hike of minimum wage to NTD 33,000 (€968.70) from the current NTD 27,470 (€806.37). Both are significantly lower than the NTD 43,166 (€1265.13) median wage in Taiwan. 

“The only option for me, if I want to increase my salary, is to move abroad, maybe to the US. But my parents are here, my home is here,” Xu said.  

Hoping to start a family with his girlfriend, Xu said he has been looking to purchase an apartment in Hsinchu. 

Unaffordable housing 

“The market is crazy. A simple two-bedroom can cost over NTD 10 million (around €292,000), and that is without a parking space!” Xu said. 

Due to low interest rates, tax cuts and market speculation, housing in Taiwan is notoriously unaffordable, with an average unit costing over 9 times the median annual wage, far exceeding the price-to-income ratio of 3 times the annual wage recommended by the UN.  

Other young Taiwanese also talk about housing concerns. 

Wu Qian-hue, a 26-year-old graduate student working part-time and living with her parents in the suburbs of Taichung, a bustling city in central Taiwan, said soaring rents have prevented her from moving out. 

“What’s the point? I can barely pay for my daily expenses and that’s it. I barely have any savings, everything I make goes to pay my bills. There’s nothing left at the end of the month. Living with my family helps me avoid getting into debt,” she said. 

“One day I’d like to have a place of my own, but for now it’s a dream,” Wu said, lamenting her city’s high housing costs.  

“Everything’s more expensive now … House prices in Taipei are crazy. For now, I can only afford to rent. I’m glad [that] I receive a subsidy for it,” said Pheonix Hung, a 27-year-old artist working in Taipei.  

Hung added that she plans to vote for Lai in the upcoming presidential election because of his party’s policies on housing, which introduced rent subsidies for single people and households with young children in 2019.  

Taiwanese artist Pheonix Hung pictured in Taipei.
Taiwanese artist Pheonix Hung pictured in Taipei. © Phoenix Hung

Computer science student and first-time voter Sung Zhi-ming, 22, said he chose to remain in accommodations provided by his university, where he shares a room with three other students, because of high rents. 

“I don’t really have a choice. It’s either this or back home, which is too far to commute every day,” said Sung, who comes from Hualian, a city on Taiwan’s east coast. 

Sung said he plans to vote for the Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-je, a candidate popular among younger generations for his outspoken manner and focus on domestic issues. 

Both Ko and Lai propose to tax vacant properties to encourage owners to put them on the rental market.  

Cross-strait relations 

But Taiwan’s relations with its giant neighbour remain at the forefront of some young people’s minds. 

Sung, who finished his military service last year, said he’s worried about a potential Chinese invasion

Taiwan requires all male citizens of military age to serve for four months in the national army, a period that was extended to one year starting in 2024. 

“I know we hear about it all the time, Chinese drills, Chinese balloons and Chinese ships in the Taiwan Strait, and we’re all kind of numb, by the end of the day … but at the same time, you can’t not think about it,” he said.

Read more‘People don’t want to talk about war’: Taiwan civil defence battles invasion risk denial

Sung said he plans to vote for the KMT, a party that favours closer ties with Beijing, in Saturday’s legislative election. 

“My parents have always voted for the KMT. … We feel like they are more capable of making peace with China. We don’t want a war,” he said.  

While echoing Sung’s sentiments, Wu said she prefers to vote for the DPP. 

Although both parties aim to maintain the status quo, the DPP differs from the KMT ideologically in that it rejects the “One China” principle. The “One China” principle is a diplomatic consensus between mainland China and the KMT that only one “China” exists, without the sides agreeing about which country is the “real” China. 

“They’ve [the DPP] managed to safeguard Taiwan’s independence, despite the pressure from China … We can’t appease China forever; we have to stand up for ourselves,” she said.  

“Of course, I worry about war, but what can you do? It’s not really up to us whether China will invade or not, is it?” Wu said.  

“At the end of the day, you just have to live with it and carry on,” Wang said. 

“The threat of invasion isn’t going to go away any time soon, but that doesn’t mean we can’t care for other issues. We have all sorts of problems, and China is not the biggest one,” she said.  

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Taiwan’s presidential election: Who are the candidates in the high-stakes vote?

Voters in Taiwan choose their new president on Saturday in a high-stakes election that carries huge geopolitical relevance. With the threat of a Chinese invasion looming larger than ever, the self-governing island’s upcoming vote is capturing global attention. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the three candidates vying for Taiwan’s top job.  

Taiwanese voters head to the polls on January 13 to pick a new leader who will set the tone for future relations with China and the US – a choice with far-reaching consequences amid escalating tensions between the island and the mainland.  

After eight years of governance by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Beijing has increasingly hardened its stance against Taipei – from cutting diplomatic contact to expanding military drills in the Taiwan Strait.  

Warning against the DPP’s continued rule, deemed as separatist” and “incompatible with cross-strait peace, China has ramped up pressure ahead of what it called a “peace and war” election by flying balloons over the island while doubling down on the rhetoric that the country’s “reunification” with Taiwan is inevitable.  

Barred from running again after two consecutive terms in office, incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen is due to step down at the end of her mandate in May.   

Presidents in Taiwan are directly elected by a simple majority every four years.  

Looking to succeed Tsai is current Vice President Lai Ching-te, who is tipped to win the election with an average 36 percent of the vote, according to the latest polls before a 10-day blackout period.  

DPP successor  

Known by his English name as William Lai, the 64-year-old also serves as the chairman of the DPP.    

Previously describing himself as a “pragmatic worker for Taiwanese independence”, Lai is a staunch defender of Taiwan’s self-governing status.

The stance, also held by Tsai, has angered China, which asserts that the island is part of its territory.  

Lai previously worked as a physician before engaging in politics by becoming a legislator in 1998, a position he held for more than a decade.   

Lai Ching-te, Taiwan’s vice president and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential candidate gestures at an election campaign event in Taipei City, Taiwan January 3, 2024. © Ann Wang, Reuters

He was then elected mayor of Tainan, a city in southern Taiwan, in 2010.  

In 2017, Lai joined Tsai’s government after he was appointed premier and held the position until 2019 when he paired with Tsai as she ran for her second term in office.   

Lai was sworn in as vice president in 2020 when Tsai won the presidential election.  

Labelled a separatist by Beijing, the frontrunner in Taiwan’s upcoming race has promised to stick to Tsai’s policy of maintaining the status quo, which avoids open declarations of independence while rejecting China’s sovereignty claims.  

Lai on Tuesday said he hopes for a reopening of dialogue between China and Taiwan following almost eight years of Beijing’s near-complete refusal to communicate with leaders of the self-governing island.

But he also pledged to build up the island’s military defence, indicating that he harbours no illusions.  

“[If Lai wins], he will carry on Tsai’s China approach: any dialogue with Beijing must be held with mutual respect and on an equal basis,” said Chang Chun-hao, professor of political science at Tunghai University in Taiwan.  

“The bottom line remains Taiwan’s sovereignty which they [Lai and the DPP] seek to guarantee by rejecting the 1992 consensus,” Chang said.   

(Editor’s note: the 1992 consensus refers to a tacit understanding between the Kuomintang (KMT) – which governed Taiwan at the time – and the Chinese Communist Party that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge that there is “one China”, with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means.)

KMT hopeful  

Pitted against Lai is Hou Yu-ih, the mayor of New Taipei City, a municipality located on the outskirts of Taipei.  

The 66-year-old, whom opinion polls credit with around 30 percent of the vote, is the candidate for Taiwan’s main opposition party – the Kuomintang (KMT), a conservative and Beijing-friendly party that ruled Taiwan for over 50 years.  

A former police chief hailing from central Taiwan, Hou was elected mayor in 2018 and then again in 2022 in a landslide vote.   

Hou Yu-ih, a candidate for Taiwan's presidency from the main opposition party Kuomintang (KMT), gestures to his supporters at a campaign event in New Taipei City, Taiwan January 5, 2024.
Hou Yu-ih, a candidate for Taiwan’s presidency from the main opposition party Kuomintang (KMT), gestures to his supporters at a campaign event in New Taipei City, Taiwan January 5, 2024. © Ann Wang, Reuters

Despite lacking experience in foreign policy and cross-strait relations, Hou, who comes from a working-class background, boasts an everyman persona that the KMT hopes will appeal to a wider range of voters.   

While Hou opposes Taiwan independence, he also rejects Beijing’s “one country, two systems” model, which was applied to Hong Kong and Macau when they were returned to China in the late 1990s and is still in force today.   

“But contrary to Lai and the DPP, who openly identify China as a menace to Taiwan, Hou and the KMT ultimately accepts the ‘One China Principle’ – even though they avoid stating whether the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) or the People’s Republic of China is the real China,” said Chen Fang-yu, assistant professor of political science at Soochow University in Taiwan.  

During his campaign, Hou has called for a reopening of dialogue with China, starting with “low-level and stable” exchanges in academia.

The outsider  

The third man in the race is former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-Je, who has framed the upcoming election as a choice between new politics” and “old forces

Representing the Taiwan People’s Party that he founded in 2019, Ko is considered by many as an outsider, as he entered politics less than a decade ago.  

A former surgeon, Ko was elected to office in 2014 as an independent candidate with the support of the DPP.  

He has since distanced himself from the ruling party as well as the KMT, after an effort to team up with Hou fell through last November.  

Ko Wen-je, Taiwan People's Party (TPP) presidential candidate makes a speech on stage during a campaign ahead of the election in Hsinchu, Taiwan December 23, 2023.
Ko Wen-je, Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) presidential candidate makes a speech on stage during a campaign ahead of the election in Hsinchu, Taiwan December 23, 2023. © Ann Wang, Reuters

Ko casts himself as a “third way” technocrat who provides voters with a middle ground on issues with China – an approach he has described as seeking a more “moderate and rational path”.  

“Ko remains very ambiguous on the subject of cross-strait relations … while he criticises the KMT’s aims of closer ties, he himself would probably welcome more dialogue and cooperation [with China],” Chang said.  

With his greater focus on domestic concerns such as unemployment and housing, Ko has garnered large support among younger generations who view him as an alternative to both the DPP and the KMT. 

Despite his popularity among younger voters, Ko trailed the other two presidential candidates in the polls, which predicted him averaging only 24 percent of the vote.  

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‘People don’t want to talk about war’: Taiwan civil defence battles invasion risk denial

from our special correspondent in Taiwan – Emerging civil defence groups in Taiwan have vowed to make the island’s population better prepared for a potential attack by Chinese troops. Two years after the Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted an unprecedented grassroots mobilisation in favour of civil resilience, a large number of Taiwanese are still afraid that the act of preparing for war could in itself raise the risk of an attack. FRANCE 24 reports.

It looks like an assault rifle but sounds rather like a toy. There is a world of difference between the clanking sound of the M4 carbine airsoft replica and the explosive boom of a real firearm. But that doesn’t prevent some clients at the Camp 66 airsoft shooting range in Taipei from dressing in tactical clothing to get a stronger feel of modern warfare. Due to severe legal restrictions on gun practice and ownership, airsoft clubs are the only way for Taiwanese civilians to get some technical skills that, they hope, could prove useful in the event of a Chinese invasion.

“I started airsoft shooting because I’ve heard since my childhood that training in Taiwan’s army isn’t good enough,” says Bill Huang, a 19-year-old mechanical engineering student wearing a “Taipei city police” tactical vest. He began practicing airsoft shooting during the summer of 2022, a few months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked a revival of interest in civil defence in Taiwan.

“I believe skills from airsoft training would be useful for civil defence because airsoft guns operate just like real guns. If one day the government gives me a gun or any other rifle, I will be able to use them and defend my country,” Huang said.

Bill Huang (R) and his friend Brian pose at the Camp 66 airsoft shooting range. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

He came to the Camp 66 shooting range with a friend who looks like he parachuted in from a war zone, with his military helmet complete with tactical communication headset and a replica of the M4 carbine that is standard issue in the US military.

When his “assault rifle” gets jammed, a former US Marine working as weapons instructor at Camp 66 is here to help.

“These are definitely not firearms. But the replicas are very faithful to the original models, and it allows people to get used to load, unload, and manipulate them,” says Richard Limon. “Most important, it teaches them to handle firearms carefully.”

Retired US Marine Richard Lemon checks an airsoft replica at the Camp 66 range.
Retired US Marine Richard Lemon checks an airsoft replica at the Camp 66 range. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

Taiwan didn’t get a “wake-up call” moment like Ukraine had in 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and sent troops to back separatists in Donbas. The country has nothing similar to the Territorial Defence Forces trained by Kyiv shortly before the 2022 invasion. 

Taiwan’s old civil defence scheme, which reportedly has hundreds of thousands of volunteers in existing crisis response teams, is facing “systemic failure” because of budget and training issues, according to analysts. 

The overhaul of civil defence was not an issue in the campaign for the January 13 presidential election, which has focused more on domestic social and economic issues rather than cross-Strait relations. Despite different rhetoric, all three candidates – as well as an overwhelming majority of Taiwanese – are in favour of broadly maintaining the status quo in the island’s thorny relations with China. 

Tony Lu poses with an AK-47 airsoft replica at Camp 66. He's known across Taiwan for having fought in Ukraine's international legion in 2022. He is now urging his fellow countrymen to get prepared in case of a Chinese invasion.
Tony Lu poses with an AK-47 airsoft replica at Camp 66. He’s known across Taiwan for having fought in Ukraine’s international legion in 2022. He is now urging his fellow countrymen to get prepared in case of a Chinese invasion. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

The recent surge of interest in civil defence preparedness came from a bottom-up movement, not a government initiative.

“Most participants in civil defence activities I met were frustrated by the lack of reaction from the Taiwanese government after the recent Chinese incursions,” says Wen Liu, a scholar at Academia Sinica‘s Institute of Ethnology who recently took part in some 50 civil defence workshops and interviewed dozens of participants for her research paper.

Getting prepared for a Chinese invasion

The legal framework preventing citizens from getting their hands on firearms is not the main issue, according to Liu. She points instead to the government’s reluctance to name its potential enemy across the Strait and frame the conflict as “Taiwanese against Chinese” because of historical reasons.

The island has lived under self-rule for 70 years since supporters of the Chinese nationalist party, the Kuomintang, fled there after losing to the Communist party in the civil war. Taiwan’s constitution still refers to itself as the “Republic of China”.

Liu notes that it’s only in June 2023 that Taiwanese authorities released an updated civil defence booklet with a section on how to tell the difference between Chinese and Taiwanese soldiers based on their uniforms, camouflage and insignia.

Close-up picture of Taiwanese firing airsoft guns at the Camp 66 range.
Close-up picture of Taiwanese firing airsoft guns at the Camp 66 range. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

“A lot of people in Taiwan have become accustomed to Chinese intimidation and don’t even want to talk about it. Since there was no invasion in the last 70 years, they believe that nothing will happen if they carry on as usual,” says Liu. To them, building a strong civil defence aimed at countering a Chinese invasion could be seen as provoking escalation with Beijing.

“The most important thing with emerging civil defence groups is that they strengthen the people’s psychological awareness. It also shows international allies that Taiwanese are not split over their will to resist,” adds the researcher.

The locals’ willingness to take up arms against a Chinese invasion is especially scrutinised by Washington, whose military help would be crucial to repel a large-scale attack. 

Portrait of Taiwanese scholar Wen Liu, an assistant research professor at Academia Sinica.
Portrait of Taiwanese scholar Wen Liu, an assistant research professor at Academia Sinica. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

It remains anyone’s guess what the attitude of the wider Taiwanese population would be in the event of an invasion by China. Public surveys on that sensitive issue are considered unreliable. Researchers interviewed by FRANCE 24 said the 2022 craze for civil defence training was now going flat or even going down, but there is no solid data on the subject.

Civil defence attracts younger people

A spokesperson for the Kuma Academy, one of the main NGOs organising classes about first aid, cognitive warfare, executing evacuation orders, and the like, said the group had “reached out” to 500,000 people, but didn’t provide a monthly breakdown. The group aims to train 3 million people – more than 10 percent of Taiwan’s population.

Airsoft clubs and new activist groups like the Kuma Academy have attracted mostly young Taiwanese, according to T.H. Schee, a tech entrepreneur and expert in crisis response.

“Most are in their 20s or early 30s. They are the age group more likely to openly prepare to resist a Chinese invasion. This is very different from the existing  disaster reaction groups, where most volunteers are over 50 years old. The older generation doesn’t like to name enemies because they know that politics and governments can change – that one day even your own government could be your enemy,” says Schee.

TH Schee prepares to train in the 4SC CrossFit room he recently opened in Taipei. The poor physical conditions of many Taiwanese young people could hinder civil resilience, according to him.
TH Schee prepares to train in the 4SC CrossFit room he recently opened in Taipei. The poor physical conditions of many Taiwanese young people could hinder civil resilience, according to him. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

Drawing on his own experience coordinating rescue efforts following the 1999 earthquake and the 2009 typhoon, he argues that both emerging groups and existing disaster reaction organisations should work together for the sake of civil resilience.

“You can’t protect your neighbourhood only by yourself (…) A key aspect of civil defence is to know what person in your local group can do what. Such knowledge and the maintenance of communication would be indispensable to avoid chaos and manage a proper resistance movement in case of an invasion,” he says.

Another challenge for Taiwan’s civil defence is the population’s general physical condition, which he sees as fairly poor.

Taiwanese people attend a CrossFit class in Taipei on October 4, 2023.
Taiwanese people attend a CrossFit class in Taipei on October 4, 2023. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

“Practicing airsoft shooting or first-aid training can be effective for psychological preparedness, but I’m afraid some young people would not last a day or two if a war breaks out, because they are not fit enough. I know that not everyone in Taiwan needs to be a soldier, that would not be practical,” says Schee.

“But if we manage to have 5 or 6 percent of the population who are really in good shape, die-hard prepared people, that could change the course of the war.”

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‘A lesson for Taiwan’s coastal defence’: How France’s ill-fated 1884 invasion is remembered

from our special correspondent in Taiwan – The Taiwanese military regularly holds drills on what it calls “red beaches” – coastal areas deemed vulnerable to large enemy landings. As Beijing threatens to seize the island by force, Taiwanese historians and military planners are looking at past invasion attempts. Some say that a daring French amphibious attack on Tamsui, north of Taiwan, still has valuable lessons for the country’s defence planners despite taking place 140 years ago.

The sound of crashing surf almost covers the noise of airplanes landing and taking off every few minutes from Taoyuan international airport, the main transport hub to get into Taiwan. Fishermen on the Zhuwei beach throw their lines, staring at the horizon under thick, dark clouds. This stretch of sand on Taiwan’s northern coast looks deceptively normal, but it’s at the centre of sophisticated war games by Beijing and Washington.

These simulations often include an attempt by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to land troops there in a bid to capture Taiwan’s main airport as well as the port of Taipei, whose cranes are clearly visible from the beach. Both infrastructures, which would be critical in case of an invasion to bring in reinforcement, are within a 10km radius. The centre of Taiwan’s capital with its presidential office and government institutions is only 35km away.

The port of Taipei is visible from Zhuwei’s beach. Taiwan’s main international airport is located a few kilometres from where this picture was taken. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

Taiwan is a rugged island with deep jungles and high mountains, geography that military planners describe as a nightmare for invading forces – similarly to the gruesome battles between US and Japanese soldiers on small Pacific islands during World War II. The relative proximity of government headquarters to the coast has made the option of a “decapitation strike” very enticing to military planners considering invading the island throughout its history.

An old bunker on a beach near Taoyuan airport. There are no signs of recent defensive structures on this so-called
An old bunker on a beach near Taoyuan airport. There are no signs of recent defensive structures on this so-called “red beach”. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

Among the last to have actually tried it were French forces in the late 19th century, during the heyday of European gunboat imperialism. The battle of Tamsui saw about 600 French marines landing on a beach 25km east of Zhuwei at the mouth of the Tamsui river, which flows right into Taipei.

The attack came as part of the wider Sino-French war, while another group of French troops was bogged down near Keelung, a port in northeast Taiwan. France’s strategic objective was to seize Taiwan as a bargaining chip to obtain the withdrawal of Chinese troops from northern Vietnam. China was then an empire ruled by the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

‘Decapitation strike’

“The landing in Tamsui was the operation that Chinese communists have been dreaming of: a daring military raid aimed at quickly penetrating into Taipei,” professor Shiu Wen-tang, a retired researcher from the Institute of Modern History at Academia Sinica, told FRANCE 24.

Shiu Wen-tang shows Qing-era cannons in a fort overlooking the mouth of the Tamsui river. Back in 1884, the French had superior artillery power, but the Qing infantry forces pushed them back to sea
Shiu Wen-tang shows Qing-era cannons in a fort overlooking the mouth of the Tamsui river. Back in 1884, the French had superior artillery power, but the Qing infantry forces pushed them back to the sea. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

“The topography hasn’t changed much. Military planners in Beijing know the island very well, thanks to their satellites. They’ve sent thousands of secret agents and corrupted Taiwanese generals … They are aware that the hills around are bristling with missiles,” he adds.

Chinese god offering help

The raid didn’t end well for the French. After successfully going ashore in the early hours of October 8, 1884, French marines faced tough resistance from Qing soldiers when they tried to move inland. Despite heavy covering artillery fire from their gunships, the invading forces were forced to retreat after a few hours of fighting.

View on Shalun beach, where French marines landed ashore in 1884. The landing itself went well, but they were quickly ambushed as they moved inland.
A view of Shalun beach, where French marines landed in 1884. The landing itself went well, but they were quickly ambushed as they moved inland. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

Professor Shiu shows us several small memorials commemorating that rare Qing victory over Western invaders. Some are classic murals depicting battle scenes with historical notes. Others look a bit more strange, at least to Western eyes. An engraved artwork in a temple shows a Chinese divinity hovering over Qing troops as they repel French soldiers.

Details of the engraved artwork in the Qingshui temple representing the French assault on Tamsui.
Detail of an engraved artwork in the Qingshui temple representing the French assault on Tamsui. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

On the shore of the Tamsui river, a sculpture of a bird painted in the colours of the French flag sits atop yellow naval mines.

“This is where Qing forces operated their line of naval mines, which prevented enemy gunboats from going up the river into Taipei. The French failed to approach this location by sea. That’s why their commanders sent the marines. They got pretty close but, in the end, they didn’t reach the mines,” says Shiu.

This memorial is located where the Qing engineers controlled a line of naval mines preventing French ships from sailing into Taipei.
This memorial is located where Qing engineers controlled a line of naval mines preventing French ships from sailing into Taipei. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

As Taiwan prepares to defend its “red beaches”, does the failed French invasion hold lessons 140 years later? The country’s defence establishment is certainly aware of this historical battle, says Jiang Hsinbiao, a policy analyst at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research.

“One of the lessons for Taiwan’s military is that it is necessary to destroy the enemy’s landing ships while they are still travelling at sea to prevent their soldiers from landing,” Jiang told FRANCE 24.

A porcupine bristling with missiles

This fits with the “porcupine” doctrine that Taiwan’s armed forces have been working on, given that the military balance is tipped in favour of the PRC’s forces, far superior in number. Instead of investing in expensive but vulnerable kit – ships, jets or tanks – the new doctrine suggests a focus on asymmetrical warfare.

The porcupine metaphor encapsulates a fundamentally defensive strategy, with a large number of widely dispersed missile launchers playing the same role as the animal’s coat of sharp spines.

“Taiwan is currently implementing its ‘porcupine’ doctrine by stockpiling Patriot and Tien Kung surface-to-air missiles, as well as anti-ship ammunition like the Harpoon and Hsiung Feng [missiles] (…) Missile launchers have been spread all over the island to deter the enemy,” says Jiang.

Landing vehicles drive on a beach during a military drill in Taoyuan on March 23, 2023.
Taiwanese landing vehicles drive on the beach during a military drill in Taoyuan on March 23, 2023. © Sam Yeh, AFP

There are only a dozen or so “red beaches” across Taiwan, which allows defense planners to better determine potential invasion routes. Most of the island’s coastline is too rugged for large military landings, according to military analysts. The Taiwanese military regularly conducts anti-landing drills with drones, tanks, and mechanised infantry.

“The width of a typical ‘red beach’ is such that only one battalion (between 600 and 800 soldiers) can land at a time. If the subsequent landing troops echelon cannot land in time, the enemy will not be able to consolidate their beachhead. They would be easily annihilated by the defence forces,” says Jiang. “The PRC’s military will not be able to attack Taiwan by amphibious landing only; it will be accompanied by airborne warfare.”

A screengrab shows a simulated Chinese attack on Taiwan conducted by Major Maxwell Stewart for the Centre for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) in June 2023.
A screengrab shows a simulated Chinese attack on Taiwan conducted by Major Maxwell Stewart for the Centre for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) in June 2023. © CIMSEC

Invasion simulations have resulted in different outcomes, some showing PRC troops being repelled with the assistance of US forces, others showing the fall of Taipei only 31 days after the establishment of a beachhead near Taoyuan airport.

‘A contest of will’

As we walk on the very spot where French marines landed, Shiu Wen-tang says that the 1884 failed invasion still holds valuable political lessons. Overconfidence was clearly a major factor in the French defeat. Landing only 600 marines to fight thousands of entrenched troops was an outright mistake. The PRC’s military is expected to use their superior numbers but they could well underestimate their Taiwanese rivals on other aspects.

Shiu Wen-tang reflects on the ill-fated invasion of Tamsui on Shalun beach, where French marines landed in 1884.
Shiu Wen-tang reflects on the ill-fated invasion of Tamsui from Shalun beach, where French marines landed in 1884. © Mehdi Chebil, FRANCE 24

A key political lesson for the Taiwanese side is that it must rely on a strong level of civilian-military trust to withstand the first invasion shock without falling into chaos. Eleven years after the French defeat, Japanese forces conducted their own amphibious landing near Keelung in northeastern Taiwan. Qing defenders were then demoralised. Law and order quickly broke down, and the Japanese invaders seized the island with limited casualties.

“This stands in sharp contrast to the Battle of Tamsui, where the Qing imperial administration had efficient leaders who were trusted by the local population,” notes Shiu. “In the end, war is always a contest of will. If a people is not willing to resist, then they have already lost.”

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Sydney, Auckland are first major cities to kick off 2024 New Year’s celebrations

Sydney and Auckland have become the world’s first major cities to ring in 2024, with more than a million revelers cheering spectacular fireworks displays that lit up the skies over Sydney Harbor and New Zealand’s tallest structure, Sky Tower.

As the clock struck midnight in Australia‘s largest city, tons of explosives erupted in a 12-minute display that focused on the Sydney Harbor Bridge. More than 1 million people, a number equivalent to one in five of the city’s residents, watched from the shore and from boats in the harbor.

“It’s total madness,” said German tourist Janna Thomas, who had waited in line since 7:30 a.m. to secure a prime waterfront location in the Sydney Botanic Garden. “It’s not so easy to find a good place to sit, but the view is incredible.”

In Auckland, the light rain that fell all day had cleared as forecast by midnight over the city of 1.7 million people before the countdown began on an illuminated digital display near the top of the 328-meter (1,076-foot) communications and observation tower.

The ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and heightened tensions in parts of the world, are affecting this year’s New Year‘s Eve celebrations in a myriad of ways. Many cities were deploying extra security, and some places canceled New Year’s Eve events altogether.

More police than ever were deployed throughout Sydney. The waterfront has been the scene of heated pro-Palestinian protests after the sails of the Sydney Opera House were illuminated in the colors of the Israeli flag in response to the Oct. 7 attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas that triggered the war.

Eight tonnes of fireworks launched in Sydney to celebrate the New Year

At the Vatican, Pope Francis recalled 2023 as a year marked by wartime suffering. During his traditional Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, he offered prayers for “the tormented Ukrainian people and the Palestinian and Israeli populations, the Sudanese people and many others.”

“At the end of the year, we will have the courage to ask ourselves how many human lives have been shattered by armed conflict, how many dead and how much destruction, how much suffering, how much poverty,” the pontiff said. “Whoever has interest in these conflicts, listen to the voice of conscience.”

In New York City, officials and party organizers said they were prepared to ensure the safety of tens of thousands of revelers expected to flood Times Square in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

Mayor Eric Adams said there were “no specific threats” to the annual New Year’s Eve bash, which was set to feature live performances from Flo Rida, Megan Thee Stallion and LL Cool J, as well as televised appearances from Cardi B and others. Organizers said in-person attendance was expected to return to pre-COVID levels, even as foot traffic around Times Square remains down slightly since the pandemic.

Amid near-daily protests sparked by the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, New York City police said they would expand the security perimeter around the party, creating a “buffer zone” that would allow them to head off potential demonstrations.

Officials also planned to monitor any protests with drones, the mayor said.

“We will be out here with our canines, on horseback, our helicopters, our boats,” Adams said. “But as we saw last year, after having no specific threats, we get a threat.”

During last year’s New Year’s Eve party, a machete-wielding man attacked three police officers a few blocks from Times Square.

Paris celebrations to highlight 2024 Olympics

Security also will also be heightened across European cities on Sunday.

In France, 90,000 law enforcement officers were set to be deployed, domestic intelligence chief Céline Berthon said Friday.

Of those, 6,000 will be in Paris, where French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said over 1.5 million people are expected to attend celebrations on the Champs-Elysees.

Darmanin cited a “very high terrorist threat” because, in part, of “what is happening in Israel and Palestine,” referring to the Israel-Hamas war.

Darmanin said that police for the first time will be able to use drones as part of security work and that tens of thousands of firefighters and 5,000 soldiers would also be deployed.

New Year’s Eve celebrations in the French capital will center on the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, including DJ sets, fireworks and video projections on the Arc de Triomphe, highlighting “changes in the city and faces of the Games,” according to the press service of the City of Paris. Other planned events include “the largest Mexican wave ever performed” and a “giant karaoke.”

New Year celebrations a ‘test’ for Paris ahead of 2024 Summer Olympics

The security challenge ahead of the Olympics was highlighted when a tourist was killed in a knife attack near the Eiffel Tower on Dec. 2. Large-scale attacks — such as that at the Bataclan in 2015, when Islamic extremists invaded the music hall and shot up cafe terraces, killing 130 people — also loom large.

In Berlin, some 4,500 police officers are expected to keep order and avoid riots like a year ago. Police in the German capital issued a ban on the traditional use of fire crackers for several streets across the city. They also banned a pro-Palestinian protest in the Neukoelln neighborhood of the city, which has seen several pro-Palestinian riots since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

In Russia, the country’s military actions in Ukraine have overshadowed end-of-year celebrations, with the usual fireworks and concert on Moscow’s Red Square canceled, as last year.

After shelling in the center of the Russian border city of Belgorod Saturday killed 24 people, some local authorities across Russia also canceled their usual firework displays, including in Vladivostok. Millions throughout Russia are expected to tune into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s New Year’s address.

In Muslim-majority Pakistan, the government has banned all New Year’s Eve celebrations as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians.

In an overnight televised message, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar urged Pakistanis to “show solidarity with the oppressed people of Gaza” by beginning the new year with simplicity.

Kakar said Muslims across the world were saddened over Israel’s attacks on Gaza that resulted in the killings of thousands of innocent people.


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Women’s rights and women wronged in 2023

The year saw progress on women’s rights in some countries, such as Spain’s introduction of menstrual leave, France’s bid to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution and the arrival of the #MeToo movement in Taiwan. But there were also setbacks in 2023, from Taliban edicts tightening restrictions on Afghan women to what the UN called a “global epidemic of femicide”.

The year 2022 was marked by major convulsions in women’s rights across the world, from the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade to the “Woman, life, freedom” chants in Iran, which were followed by a massive government crackdown.

This year saw more gradual developments, from the continuing assaults on and pushback against diminishing abortion rights in the US to the steady disappearance of women from public life in Afghanistan.

FRANCE 24 looks back at some of the major developments in 2023 that left their mark on women’s rights across the world.

Spain becomes first European country to introduce menstrual leave

Spain’s Equality Minister Irene Montero after a parliamentary vote in Madrid, on December 22, 2022. © Thomas Coex, AFP

In February, Spain became the first European country to pass a law creating menstrual leave for women suffering from painful periods. Equality Minister Irene Montero – from the far-left Podemos party, part of the Socialist-led ruling coalition – called it “a historic day for feminist progress”.

The law, which passed by 185 votes in favour to 154 against, entitles employees experiencing period pain to time off, with the state social security system – not employers – picking up the tab.

As with paid leave for other health reasons, it requires a doctor’s approval. The length of sick leave was not specified in the law.

The new legislation also allows minors aged 16 and 17 to have an abortion without parental permission, reversing a requirement introduced by a previous conservative government in 2015.

Read moreSpain passes Europe’s first menstrual leave law

The #MeToo wave reaches Taiwan’s shores

Chen Chien-jou, 22, during an interview in New Taipei City, Taiwan during the #MeToo movement crisis.
Chen Chien-jou, 22, during an interview in New Taipei City, Taiwan during the #MeToo movement crisis. © Sam Yeh, AFP

It was a Netflix series that triggered the #MeToo movement in Taiwan – more than five years after the Harvey Weinstein abuse case sparked the social media-driven awareness campaign in the US and many parts of the world.

“Wave Makers”, an eight-episode Netflix drama released in April, is a political thriller that revealed the inner workings of a fictional presidential campaign team – and how women in power on the island deal with sexual harassment.  

The effect was instantaneous. Over the weeks that followed, several Taiwanese women broke social taboo to reveal their experiences at work. Female employees of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party kicked off the first major wave by accusing powerful politicians of sexual harassment and assault. The phenomenon spread to cultural and academic circles, with alleged victims accusing celebrities, doctors and professors.

A year after Roe v. Wade overturned, abortion battles rage in the US

Abortion rights demonstrators at rally in Washington, DC on June 24, 2023.
Abortion rights demonstrators at rally in Washington, DC on June 24, 2023. © Andrew Caballero-Reynolds, AFP

In its June 2022 ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court ended a half-century federal protection of abortion rights and allowed each state to legislate on the issue.

In 14 states, abortion has been outlawed, in some cases without exceptions for rape or incest. On the other hand, 17 states enacted laws or held referendums to protect abortion rights.

In other states, access to abortion is not prohibited, but is threatened by laws designed to restrict or prohibit the procedure. This is notably the case in Montana, Wyoming, Indiana and Ohio.

In April, a legal battle over the abortion pill opened a new front in the US battle for reproductive rights when a Texas district court judge invalidated the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the abortion pill.

Days later, an appeals court struck down parts of the Texas judge’s ruling, but affirmed many restrictions on access to mifepristone, the abortion drug. The Justice Department under the Biden administration as well as the company manufacturing mifepristone sought emergency relief from the Supreme Court, which temporarily halted any changes.

In December, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by the FDA and mifepristone manufacturer Danco Laboratories. A decision is expected by end-June 2024, making abortion rights a likely campaign issue ahead of the 2024 US presidential election in November.

South of the US border, Mexico decriminalises abortion

A demonstrator in favour of decriminalizing abortion in Mexico City on September 28, 2023.
A demonstrator in favour of decriminalizing abortion in Mexico City on September 28, 2023. © Silvana Flores, AFP

Going against the grain of other Latin American countries and the US, Mexico decriminalised abortion across the country on September 6.

In a landmark judgement, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that criminal penalties for terminating pregnancies were unconstitutional.

Abortion was already decriminalised in a dozen of the country’s 32 states. The capital, Mexico City, was the first jurisdiction in Latin America to authorise abortions, in 2007.

Macron announces a bill to enshrine abortion rights in France’s constitution

Placards read
Placards read “My body my choice” (L) and “Abortion in the Constitution” at rally outside the Senate in Paris, February 1, 2023. © Ludovic Marin, AFP

In a speech on March 8, International Woman’s Day, President Emmanuel Macron announced a plan to put forward a bill enshrining abortion rights in France’s constitution.

The commitment was made during a tribute to feminist activist Gisèle Halimi, who played a key role in the passing of the 1975 Veil Act granting women the right to abortion and contraception.

Seven months later, the French president stepped up the pace, when he revealed that a draft project would be submitted to the State Council, France‘s highest administrative court, so that “by 2024, women’s freedom to have an abortion will be irreversible”.

Read moreThe challenge of enshrining abortion rights in the French constitution

Taliban slides into ‘gender apartheid’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ terrain

Afghan women wait to receive aid from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in Ghazni, Afghanistan on October 31, 2023.
Afghan women wait to receive aid from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in Ghazni, Afghanistan on October 31, 2023. © Mohammad Faisal Naweed, AFP

The year began with a Taliban ban on Afghan women from working in national and international aid organisations. It ended with an edict forcing the closure of all-women beauty salons, one of the few places left in Afghanistan where women could gather outside their homes.

Since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, Afghan women’s rights have been steadily rolled back, exposing the impoverished country to the “most serious women’s rights crisis in the world”, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Taliban have “completely dismantled the system” that had been developed to respond to domestic and gender-based violence in Afghanistan, noted the New York-based rights organisation. The beauty salon ban spelled the closure of “one of the last havens for mutual support among Afghan women”. Around 60,000 women lost their jobs in the process.

In a joint report to UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, said the Taliban’s actions “could amount to gender apartheid”.

The report also noted that the severe discrimination “may amount to gender persecution – a crime against humanity”.

Read moreAfghanistan’s NGO ban for women exposes rifts in Taliban ranks

Iran toughens penalties for women defying hijab rules

A woman holds up a placard with a picture of Mahsa Amini at a solidarity demonstration in Hasakeh, in Syria's Kurdish northeast on September 25, 2022.
A woman holds up a placard with a picture of Mahsa Amini at a solidarity demonstration in Hasakeh, in Syria’s Kurdish northeast on September 25, 2022. © Delil Souleiman, AFP

On September 20, a few days after Mahsa Amini‘s first death anniversary, the Iranian parliament approved a bill increasing prison terms, fines and penalties for women and girls breaking the country’s strict dress codes.

Penalties were also increased for employers as well as management of shopping malls and small businesses for failing to enforce the dress code.

The legal measures came after nearly a year of protests that saw women appearing in public without their hijabs as anger over Amini’s death while in custody exploded on the streets across Iran.

Following a brutal crackdown on the protests, many Iranian women continued to record and post anti-hijab clips and posts on social media. The new measures include penalties for “mockery of the hijab” in the media and on social networks.

Before the bill becomes law, it must be approved by Iran’s powerful Guardian Council.

Read moreYear after Mahsa Amini’s death, Iran crushes anti-veil protests

Morocco’s monarch nudges family code reform – again

On September 26, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI sent a letter to the country’s head of government, Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, instructing the latter to ensure the revision of the country’s family code.

The letter followed a speech by the monarch on July 30, 2022 – marking the country’s annual “Throne Day” festivities, when Mohammed VI called for a revision of the Mudawana, Morocco’s family code.

The speech raised the hopes of Moroccan women – deprived of numerous rights such as inheritance, alimony and custody – to see enhanced gender rights in the kingdom.

In his letter to the prime minister, the king stated that the family code needed to adhere to the principle of “broad participatory consultation” with all concerned parties, including civil society activists and experts.

The king also asked the prime minister to speed up the reform so that a first version of the text could be presented to him within six months.

The family code, which had already reformed in 2004, has enabled joint responsibility between spouses, raised the minimum age of marriage to 18, granted women the right to request a divorce and the freedom to choose a husband without the authorisation of a guardian. But the weight of tradition and the discretion left to judges – much to the regret of women’s rights activists – have created a significant gap between the text and enforcement of the family code.

Feminicide hits global record high

A woman wears a mask during a
A woman wears a mask during a “Not One Less” demo against feminicide outside Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina. © Luis Robayo, AFP

Around 89,000 women and girls were deliberately killed in 2022, the highest yearly number recorded in the past 20 years, according to a study by the Research and Trend Analysis Branch, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and UN Women.

In a joint statement issued ahead of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women called for an end to the “global epidemic of femicide”.

While #MeToo and other movements “have broken the silence and demonstrated that violence against women, girls and adolescents is happening throughout our communities, they have not always been followed by adequate reforms of laws and policies, nor have they produced much needed results and changes in women’s daily lives”, the statement noted.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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‘Unprecedented’ weapons seizures in Myanmar boost anti-junta resistance morale

A military operation launched in late October has turned the tide in the ongoing civil war between the Myanmar military junta and allied opposition forces throughout the country. Photos and videos shared online during December show significant weapons caches seized by resistance fighters who have taken over military outposts around the country. The seizure comes amid new anti-junta alliances and “unprecedented” major territorial gains, according to an expert on the conflict.

Issued on:

5 min

Operation 1027 began on October 27, 2023 and has since led to significant strategic gains for Myanmar’s anti-junta opposition. 

The operation is conducted by the Three Brotherhood Alliance, made up of the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. These ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) make up just a small part of the anti-junta resistance in Myanmar, which has been in the throes of a civil war since a military coup overthrew its democratically elected government in February 2021.

Operation 1027 has brought new energy to the anti-coup movement as resistance fighters take over key military outposts and capture territory around the country. Images shared online show fighters posing victoriously with weapons, ammunition and heavy artillery.

Images shared on X show members of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army with weapons and ammunition captured from Myanmar military outposts in Namhsan, Shan State between December 10 and 15, 2023.

The official account of Myanmar’s opposition government in exile shared these images of the Ta’ang National Army with heavy artillery captured from military bases in Namhsan.

‘They were able to take them by surprise and take over a lot of territory’

The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to Erin Murphy, a senior fellow with the Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a Myanmar expert.

What’s been happening in Myanmar in the last couple of months is that you’ve seen unprecedented cooperation among the ethnic armed groups. They combine forces to counter the Myanmar junta. They were able to take them by surprise and take over a lot of territory, junta outposts, take their equipment and their military materiel and really kind of breathe life into the anti-junta forces that have been in place since the coup.

And so you see these photos of large caches of weapons, whether it’s semi-automatic weapons, rifles, pistols. They’ve taken over a lot of Myanmar military weaponry by taking over these outposts.

Outposts, border towns and police stations

The three groups making up the Brotherhood Alliance operate primarily in Shan State, which borders China, and Rakhine State, on the western coast. The groups have carried out coordinated attacks, mostly in northern Myanmar.

The Arakan Army represents the Arakan ethnic group in Rakhine State, engaging in conflict with the Myanmar Armed Forces since 2009 for Arakan sovereignty. The Ta’ang National Liberation Army has been active in Shan State since the 1990s, primarily focusing on combating drug production and trade. The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, rooted in Communist ideology, has opposed the Burmese government since 1989 and shifted focus to anti-junta resistance in 2021.

The Arakan Army declared that they have been able to capture 142 military bases – including camps, outposts, border posts and police stations – in Rakhine State since the operation began. The FRANCE 24 Observers team was unable to independently verify this information.

In total, the Brotherhood Alliance says it has seized more than 422 bases and seven towns since October 27. The coalition has operated mainly in Shan state, capturing more than 100 military installations on the Chinese border and effectively cutting off 40% of cross-border trade through important border crossings.

A video shared on X shows a stockpile of weapons captured from a military outpost near Muse, a northern border town with China in Shan State.

Murphy adds: 

The Myanmar military is located throughout the country. So instead of being an outward-facing force, it’s really internal. It has border guard forces. It has a light infantry division. It has brigades located all throughout the country. Some of them are small, some of them are quite large, and they’re located in every state and region in the country.

Images shared on X show the Ta’ang National Liberation Army at a military base in Namhkam, Shan State, captured on December 18.

So some of these outposts that these EAOs have taken over are relatively small, but some of them are about medium-sized. What they’re able to seize is pretty unprecedented and pretty impressive as well. But we also have to remember that the Myanmar military still is able to get much better equipment from the Chinese, from maybe the North Koreans, the Russians, and the Belarusians. But if these EAOs are seizing that equipment, then they might be able to have the same level of firepower.

Increasing weapons supply and quality

In addition to cutting off trade through border crossings, outpost attacks help the opposition movement seize military-grade weaponry and ammunition from junta caches.

Photos shared on X detail some of the artillery seized by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army in Shan State.

Armed organisations and militias have been known to import weapons from trafficking networks or manufacture their own, sometimes even 3D printing them. However, these weapons fall behind in terms of quality. 

Capturing military bases has allowed resistance fighters to add artillery cannons, Chinese-made anti-materiel rifles, and machine guns to their arsenals. 

‘It’s also meant to show the junta that they’re weak, that they are taking over territory, that they’re taking their weapons’

Operation 1027 has also encouraged other ethnic armed groups and militias – as well as the People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), the main military wing of Myanmar’s opposition government in exile – to ramp up their assaults on the military junta around the country. While weapons seizures are a significant tactical gain for the opposition, they also serve to boost the resistance movement’s morale and regain international attention.

Murphy explained:

These photos are certainly used for public relations, for morale, and I think to show the world what they are capable of doing. It certainly helps with morale and this has been going on since the coup in February 2021. And that the EAOs, the PDFs and the anti-junta forces – and that includes the civilians who are fighting through protests and not in hand-to-hand combat – they are wondering if the world forgot them.

Two groups allied with the Brotherhood Alliance captured a police station in Nyaung Pin Thar, in southern Myanmar, on December 13. Photos shared on X show the weapons they captured.

And Ukraine, Gaza have certainly taken the the air out of the focus on Myanmar. So these types of photos kind of help boost morale. And I think it’s also meant to show the junta that they’re weak, that they are taking over territory, that they’re taking their weapons. I think it’s meant to spook them as well.

The Irrawaddy, an opposition media outlet in Myanmar, reports that more than 650 junta soldiers have surrendered or defected since Operation 1027 began. 

China has helped facilitate talks and a temporary ceasefire between the ruling military and anti-junta groups. Despite a ceasefire announced on December 14, resistance fighters continued to seize key territory.

There are certainly opportunities here, and it is become very interesting in Myanmar. But I think the one thing that we all should remember is that there are millions of people getting caught in the crossfire of this and that they are without food, without shelter. They’re getting bombed by the junta trying to root out these EAOs and are getting caught in the crossfire. So we can’t forget the humanitarian issues that are happening here. And that’s unfortunately not unprecedented in Myanmar. But it is growing worse and worse by the day with this ongoing fighting and lack of peace.

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‘A real blow for the junta’: Myanmar’s ethnic groups launch unprecedented armed resistance

Fighting in Myanmar between the military junta and an alliance of ethnic armed groups has intensified since late October after an unprecedented offensive in the country’s north exposed the junta’s struggles on the ground. The UN called for all sides to respect international law in a statement on Friday, saying that more than 70 civilians had already been killed and some 200,000 displaced by the upsurge in violence. 

Myanmar’s army, known as the Tatmadaw, has been fighting against simultaneous offensives launched by ethnic armed groups in several regions across the country since late October.

“It’s the biggest challenge that the military junta has had to face since the coup d’état of February 1, 2021,” said Thomas Kean, a specialist on Myanmar at the International Crisis Group, an NGO that monitors global conflicts. 

Fighting erupted over the weekend in Shan, Kachin and Chin states in the country’s north as well as in Rakhine State in the west, where an informal ceasefire had been in place for almost a year until early last week. Armed groups have taken the fight to the Tatmadaw in Kayah State in the country’s east, according to Kean. At least 70 civilians, including children, have been killed since the fighting erupted in earnest on October 27, and more than 90 wounded and more than 200,000 displaced, according to a UN statement released Friday. 

Operation 1027

Dubbed “Operation 1027”, the offensive began on October 27 in northern Shan State on the Chinese border. Three armed groups – the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – have joined forces under the Three Brotherhood Alliance moniker. 

Myanmar’s borderlands are home to dozens of ethnic armed groups that have fought against the military on and off since the country’s independence in 1948. Since the Tatmadaw toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in a February 2021 coup, some of these groups have been active in training the People’s Defence Forces that emerged to resist the putsch. 

“Helped by resistance groups formed after the coup, hundreds of experienced and fairly well-armed fighters managed to simultaneously attack key junta sites. They seized several towns and villages in the region, took control of military outposts and cut off important trade routes to China,” Kean said, adding that the attack had been “the junta’s biggest setback in the field for a long time”. 

Read moreMyanmar rebels’ offensive: Junta faces biggest threat since 2021 coup

Officially, the aim of the joint offensive was to crack down on the criminal activities that have proliferated in these borderlands, particularly in the Chinese-speaking region of Kokang. Kokang has been dominated since 2009 by a pro-junta militia that has grown wealthy through drug production and other kinds of illegal trafficking, including sex work and online fraud operations. The Chinese government has increasingly been pressuring governments across Southeast Asia to clamp down on the flourishing cyber-scam industry, in which gangs have held thousands of Chinese nationals captive in crowded compounds and forced them to target people across mainland China and beyond with online scams.

“Since May, Beijing has been asking the Myanmar military to step up control of its border militia, to no avail,” Kean explained. “So the Three Brotherhood Alliance has taken advantage of this junta inaction to launch its attacks under the guise of fighting crime.” It’s a way, he said, for the alliance to carry out its assault without risking a negative reaction from China.

“It was also a way to strike a diplomatic blow against the junta, a traditional ally of Beijing,” said Kyaw Win, director of the UK-based Burma Human Rights Network. Not long after the attack, Beijing had shown “its strong dissatisfaction”, deploring the Chinese casualties in Kokang. 

“And China is supposed to be building a major rail link through Kokang as part of its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. So it wants stability on its border,” he added. “Now, faced with this offensive, the junta no longer seems able to guarantee it.”

Chain reaction

The Three Brotherhood Alliance’s offensive in the north seems to have set off a chain reaction across the country. “These victories have, in a way, galvanised the country’s armed groups,” Kean said.

On November 6, armed groups announced that they had seized control of Kawlin, a town of 25,000 people in the Sagaing region. The next day, resistance forces said they had taken Khampat, a town in the country’s west. 

“And so the fighting gradually spread, with fronts in several regions,” Win said. “Today, according to figures put forward by the various ethnic groups, the army has lost around a hundred military posts and control of some fifty towns and villages. The ethnic groups have also managed to seize numerous weapons and vehicles.”

The campaign has not gone unanswered. By November 2, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing had promised to launch a counter-attack in the country’s north. “We will take the necessary action to counter acts of terrorism,” he warned, announcing an emergency meeting with his military leaders.

But faced with a war on many fronts, the Tatmadaw seems to be exposing its weaknesses rather than its much-vaunted military might. 

“As has often been the case since the beginning of the civil war, it retaliates with air strikes, but its mobile forces on the ground appear limited and overwhelmed,” Kean said.

The Tatmadaw has been grappling with a shortage of fighters seizing power in February 2021. In an analysis published in May, researcher Ye Myo Hein estimated that “the army currently has around 150,000 personnel, including 70,000 combat soldiers”. According to his estimates, at least 21,000 soldiers have been killed or else deserted or defected.

“What the current situation shows is that the pressure on the Burmese army is stronger than ever,” Win said. “Today, it lacks men and resources. Every day, it loses ground in the countryside and is gradually confined to the big cities like Yangon and Mandalay.”

“The Tatmadaw can now collapse,” he said, calling the international community to action. “The time is now or never to act and restore peace to Burma.” 

A turning point?

Kean was more cautious in his appraisal of the situation.

“It’s true that recent events show that the military is at a critical juncture. Until now, it had never lost so much ground or even entire towns”, he said. “But it has already shown in the past that it is capable of reversing the trend. The question over the next few weeks will be whether or not it will be able to recover the lost territory.”

Before seeing the regime “surrender”, “it is more likely that the army will redouble its efforts to regain the upper hand, and that this will lead to an increase in violence and bombing”, Kean said. “The country risks sinking into an ever more brutal spiral where civilians will pay a heavy price.” 

There is one actor, though, that could turn the tables at any moment: China. 

“Even if Beijing has so far largely let the fighting take its course in Shan State, this may not last,” Kean said. “Beijing has far more influence over events on its border than any other international actor. China can just as easily put pressure on ethnic groups as on the junta to end the fighting and bog down the conflict in a status quo.”

This article has been adapted from the original in French.

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Biden tells Asia-Pacific leaders US ‘not going anywhere’ as it looks to build economic ties

President Joe Biden on Thursday made America’s case to national leaders and CEOs attending the Asia-Pacific summit that the United States is committed to high standards in trade and to partnerships that will benefit economies across the Pacific.

“We’re not going anywhere,” he declared.

Fresh off his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden also told business leaders that the US was “de-risking and diversifying” but not “decoupling.” from Beijing.

But he did not mince words in suggesting the US and friends in the Pacific could offer businesses a better option than China.

He also noted that US economies had invested some $50 billion in fellow Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economies in 2023, including in clean energy technologies, aviation and cybersecurity.

“This is not all kumbaya but it’s straightforward,” Biden said. “We have real differences with Beijing when it comes to maintaining a fair and level economic playing field and protecting your intellectual property. ”

Biden sought to send a clear message about American leadership as business leaders grapple with the risks of doing businesses in the midst of wars in the Middle East and Europe and a still shaky post-pandemic economy.

He was also spending time on Thursday letting Indo-Pacific leaders know that the US is committed to nurturing economic ties throughout the region.

Biden later posed for the traditional “family photo” with other leaders of APEC, the group that includes 21 economies.

Biden in his remarks to the CEOs sought to highlight his administration’s efforts to strengthen ties with the region. APEC members have invested $1.7 trillion in the US economy, supporting some 2.3 million American jobs.

US companies, in turn, have invested about $1.4 trillion in APEC economies.

Later, during talks with APEC leaders at a working lunch, Biden spoke about efforts funded by his Inflation Reduction Act to improve sustainability, climate change and clean energy infrastructure in the US.

“I encourage everyone around this table to also take strong national actions,” Biden said. “It will take all of us to meet this moment.”

The US hasn’t hosted the annual leaders’ summit — started in 1993 by President Bill Clinton — since 2011. The group met virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Leaders did gather in Bangkok last year, but Biden skipped the summit because his granddaughter was getting married, and he sent Vice President Kamala Harris in his place.

The annual leaders’ conference brings together heads of nations and other top economic and diplomatic leaders.

Biden told those who gathered Wednesday evening at a welcome party — including Russia’s representative, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk — that today’s challenges were unlike those faced by previous APEC leaders.

Biden also sought to underscore that he was seeking to responsibly manage the United States’ strained relationship with China one day after he and Xi sat down for more than four hours of talks at bucolic Filoli Estate outside of San Francisco.

“A stable relationship between the world’s two largest economies is not merely good for the two economies but for the world,” Biden said. “A stable relationship. It’s good for everyone.”

Demonstrations in and around APEC continued on Thursday. Hours before leaders were to gather at the Moscone Center for the summit, protesters calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war were detained by police after shutting down all traffic over a major commuting bridge heading into San Francisco.

After decades of trade built on the premise of keeping prices low, accessing new markets and maximizing profits, many companies are now finding a vulnerable global economy.

The Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts aren’t helping matters.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed frailties in their supply chains. Climate change has intensified natural disasters that can close factories.

The Israel-Hamas war and Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion have generated new financial risks, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence could change how companies operate and displace workers.

Xi too, met with American business leaders — at a $2,000-per-plate dinner Wednesday evening. It was a rare opportunity for the business leaders to hear directly from the Chinese president as they seek clarification on Beijing’s expanding security rules that could choke foreign investment.

“China is pursuing high-quality development, and the United States is revitalizing its economy,” he said, according to an English language translation.

“There is plenty of room for our cooperation, and we are fully able to help each other succeed and achieve win-win outcomes.”

He signaled that China would send the US new giant pandas, just a week after three from the Smithsonian National Zoo were returned to China, much to the dismay of Americans.

There are only four pandas left in the United States, at the Atlanta Zoo.

Biden and Xi understand that the complicated ties between the two nations have major global impacts. Their meeting Wednesday at a Northern California estate was in part an effort to show the world that while they are global economic competitors, the US and China aren’t rivals seeking conflict.

With his characteristic optimism, Biden sketched a vision of leaders who manage competition “responsibly,” adding, “That’s what the United States wants and what we intend to do.”

Xi, though, was gloomier about the state of the post-pandemic global economy. China’s economy remains in the doldrums, with prices falling due to slack demand from consumers and businesses.

“The global economy is recovering, but its momentum remains sluggish,” Xi said. “Industrial and supply chains are still under the threat of interruption, and protectionism is rising. All these are grave problems.”

White House officials said Biden has been bolstered by signs the US economy is in a stronger position than China’s and that the US was building stronger alliances throughout the Pacific.

Part of that is through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, announced during a May 2022 trip to Tokyo. It came six years after the US unilaterally withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that was signed by 12 countries.

The new framework has four major pillars: supply chains, climate, anti-corruption and trade. There won’t be any official trade deals to announce — the “framework” label allows Biden to bypass Congress on any agreements reached with the 13 countries. Work on three of the four pillars had been completed.

While US allies are still are looking to hammer out comprehensive trade agreements with Washington, Biden administration officials are underscoring that IPEF has helped the US and partners take action at a far faster clip than traditional trade deals.

“Most trade negotiations take years to complete,” said Mike Pyle, Biden’s deputy national security adviser for international economics.

“The issues that are at the cutting edge of the global economic conversation, issues like supply chains, clean energy, good government —- we have struck agreements around them in just 18 months, with a full set of IPEF partners.”


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Taiwan set to dominate talks as Xi meets Biden in San Francisco

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet US counterpart Joe Biden in San Francisco on Wednesday for the two leaders’ first face-to-face meeting following a turbulent 12 months for US-China relations. Taiwan, a long-term source of disagreement between the two nations, is expected to top the agenda.

The two heads of state will meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Californian city, their first encounter since a meeting on November 14th 2022, in Bali.  

Positive momentum following the G20 summit was swiftly derailed by various spats that brought relations between the US and China to their lowest level in years.  

The US shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon over its territory in February 2023, an incursion the US described as “unacceptable”.  

China said US accusations amounted to “information warfare”, and delayed a planned visit to the People’s Republic by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

A cumulation of trade tensions and sanctions also contributed to bring relations to their lowest points in decades before a flurry of high-level diplomacy, including Blinken’s eventual trip to Beijing in June, signalled ambitions on both sides to mend ties. 

Wednesday’s meeting is likely being seen as an opportunity to “calm relations, to not inflame things further in context full of difficult and tense and inflamed issues,” says Astrid Nordin, Lau Chair of Chinese International Relations at King’s College London. 

“We’re not trying to decouple from China. What we’re trying to do is change the relationship for the better,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Tuesday, shortly before heading to San Francisco.

Semiconductors, climate agreements, and fentanyl trafficking are all expected to be on the agenda for the talks. “But from Beijing’s perspective, the most important issue in the US-China relationship will be over Taiwan,” Nordin says. 

Taiwan is critically important in the relationship between China and the USA because of its geostrategic location and its symbolism,” adds Steve Tsang, Director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London.  

Symbolism, geopolitics 

Taiwan will take part in this week’s APEC forum under the name “Chinese Taipei”. While the island’s democratically elected leadership maintains it is an independent country, China claims it as a province of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 

In the past year and a half, Taiwan has faced increased military pressure from Beijing, raising fears China intends to fulfil its ambition to “unify” Taiwan with the mainland and using force if necessary. 

Read moreMore than 100 Chinese warplanes and nine navy ships spotted around Taiwan


At the same time, the US has bolstered its support for Taiwan with a high-profile visit from US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August 2022 and by increasing its capacity to buy US weapons

Taiwan matters to the US as a “symbolic issue of providing support for a democratic ally in the face of potential hostile invasion”, says Nordin. “A US president would not want to be the person who stands aside and just looks on if that happens.” 

Biden has been more outspoken than his predecessor in his rhetorical support for Taiwan and its self-governance. 

The island is also geographically significant for the US with a strategically advantageous position off the Pacific coast of China, linking in alliances with nearby Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.  

For China, the stakes are also high. Reintegration of Taiwan into the PRC is a question of national identity, unity and security. 

Historically, China considers Taiwan not only part of China but also part of its “First Island Chain” – a first line of defence off the Pacific coast, “the taking of which will not only secure China’s Eastern Seaboard but also enable the Chinese navy and air force to project power into the Pacific”, says Tsang. 

In recent years, “Xi Jinping has been more explicit than previous generations of leadership that he does not want to leave the status quo [in Taiwan] for the next generation,” says Nordin. 

‘Getting back on a normal course’

For decades, China has shown little appetite for military intervention in Taiwan, instead proposing that it be integrated into the PRC under a “one country, two systems” formula, that was used for Hong Kong. 

The US has also found ways to appease both China and Taiwan: it recognises Beijing as the government of China and doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan under the “One China” policy.  

At the same time it has a “robust unofficial relationship” with Taiwan and has pledged military support under the Taiwan Relations Act were the island’s security to come under threat.   

As such, forced unity with Taiwan “can only happen if China can either deter the US from interfering or defeat the US forces sent to help Taiwan defend itself”, says Tsang.  

Either scenario would mean that China had “devastated the US’s credibility in the Asian Pacific”, he adds.  

So, what hope for compromise when the two leaders meet on Wednesday? 

“Neither party will yield to the other on Taiwan,” Tsang says. “The best any US president or Chinese supreme leader can do over Taiwan is to ease tensions by making noises that enable the other side to turn the temperature down.”   

But the fact that the leaders are meeting at all is a sign of political will to reduce the heat after a tumultuous 12 months.  

“There’s been a lot of work going on over summer in preparation for this meeting and the fact that it is now culminating in face-to-face talks might be a sign that there has been some stabilisation in the US-China relationship” adds Nordin.  

Asked what he hoped to achieve at the meeting, Biden said he wanted “to get back on a normal course of corresponding; being able to pick up the phone and talk to one another if there’s a crisis; being able to make sure our military still have contact with one another”.

Despite positive noises, any agreement on a way forward in Taiwan is, Nordin says, “highly unlikely”.  

“But what there might be is a de-escalation in rhetoric and scope for both nudging closer to a stabilisation of the status quo. The absence of worsening, perhaps, is something to aspire to in this scenario.” 

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