No, this video doesn’t show mosques being destroyed in China

X users have been circulating a video in recent days that shows a mosque being bulldozed, claiming that it provides proof that the Chinese government is destroying mosques. The Chinese government is carrying out a “sinicization policy” on mosques, either demolishing them or carrying out architectural modifications to make them look more Chinese, a practice that has been decried by human rights organisations. However,  this video was not filmed in China.

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If you only have a minute:

  • X users have been sharing and circulating a video showing a mosque minaret being bulldozed by, they claim, the Chinese government. 
  • In their captions, these users wrongly claim that the demolition of this mosque is an example of a campaign by the Chinese government bent on the “sinicization” of mosques in China. 
  • In reality, the scene was filmed in Turkey, not China. It shows the controlled demolition of a mosque minaret that risked collapse after it was structurally damaged in the earthquake that took place on February 6, 2023. 
  • However, while this video is unrelated, the Chinese government is currently carrying out a campaign to destroy and alter mosques across China.

The fact check, in detail: 

A video of a mosque being demolished went viral  on X a few days ago. Tweets featuring the video claim that it shows the work of the Chinese government. A user whosetweet garnered 300,000 likes claimed that the mosque was going to be turned into “public toilets”, because, he said, China thinks of Islam as a “mental illness”.

This is a screengrab of a post on X that wrongly claimed that the mosque had been destroyed by the Chinese government in order to build public toilets. © X / @Linfo24_7

“The Chinese Communist Party has been focusing on mosques as part of its crackdown on Muslim Uyghurs,” wrote this user

This is a screengrab of a post on X which wrongly claimed that this mosque was destroyed as part of the Chinese government’s crackdown on Uyghurs.
This is a screengrab of a post on X which wrongly claimed that this mosque was destroyed as part of the Chinese government’s crackdown on Uyghurs. © X / @Knot73211261

The misinformation reached new levels when a Chinese account with more than 500,000 followers, which posts tweets in Arabic, reacted to the tweet. This account rightly claimed that the mosque in the footage was actually located in Italy. However, they then blamed “American security services” for spreading the rumour that China was involved.

This is a screengrab of a post on X that says that American security services are responsible for spreading false rumours that the Chinese government destroyed this mosque.
This is a screengrab of a post on X that says that American security services are responsible for spreading false rumours that the Chinese government destroyed this mosque. © X / @mog_china

If you carry out a reverse image search (check out how by reading our guide) then you can find older posts featuring this video. We discovered that the video in question was already circulating online a year ago, in February and March 2023. We learned from those posts that the mosque shown in the video is actually located in Adana, in Turkey. 

The mosque sustained structural damage in the earthquake that took place on February 6, 2023. It’s minaret was damaged, which led local authorities to carry out a “controlled” demolition in late February 2023, as documented by these Turkish media outlets.

Back then, the video was circulated online because a worker was injured during the demolition, as shown in a longer version of the scene, which was broadcast by Turkish media outlet IHA on March 2, 2023.

This is an earlier post of the video showing the demolition of a mosque minaret in Adana, Turkey.

Community Notes on X – which allow X users to add context to a potentially false post in a collaborative manner – say that the mosque being demolished in the footage is the Gökoğlu mosque in the town of Adana. It’s impossible to get close enough to the mosque in question to see it clearly in Google Street View or Yandex Maps. However, there are a few other videos posted on TikTok in late February 2023 that also show the demolition of the mosque’s minaret, which enable us to confirm that it is, indeed, the Gökoğlu mosque.

This is a screengrab of a TikTok video that says that this footage shows the Gökoğlu mosque in Adana.
This is a screengrab of a TikTok video that says that this footage shows the Gökoğlu mosque in Adana. © TikTok

Even if this video in particular does not show a mosque being destroyed by the Chinese government, the Chinese government does have a campaign targeting mosques.

The NGO Human Rights Watch wrote a whole report, published in November 2023, about the “sinicization of mosques” in China. The report talks specifically about a policy of “mosque consolidation”.

“The Chinese government is not ‘consolidating’ mosques as it claims, but closing many down in violation of religious freedom,” said Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese government’s closure, destruction, and repurposing of mosques is part of a systematic effort to curb the practice of Islam in China.”

The report notes that the government’s “mosque consolidation” efforts are focused on the regions of Ningxia and Gansu, which are the provinces with the largest Muslim populations after Xinjiang, where the Chinese authorities have already been carrying out a violent repression of the Muslim Uyghur population for years. 

Part of the sinicization of these mosques includes architectural changes, according to Human Rights Watch. In a number of mosques, the government has replaced minarets, domes and other features characteristic to Islamic heritage with architectural styles more traditional to Chinese culture, as part of their program of cultural assimilation.

À lire aussiChinese mosque partially destroyed in state campaign against Muslim minority

The Chinese government has also demolished mosques, as detailed in this article by FRANCE 24. More than 90% of mosques in the region of Ningxia have been demolished or modified had Islamic features removed, according to satellite images gathered by the Financial Times in an extensive report studying this troubling phenomenon in detail. At least 1,714 religious buildings have been altered or destroyed.

This is a screengrab showing the alteration of one mosque highlighted in the report by the Financial Times.
This is a screengrab showing the alteration of one mosque highlighted in the report by the Financial Times. © Financial Times

On social media, people often publish images of mosques being destroyed or their “sinicization”.

This is a screengrab of a post on X showing the sinicization of the Doudian mosque in China.
This is a screengrab of a post on X showing the sinicization of the Doudian mosque in China. © X / @ianscottmunro

Some have said that the Chinese government considers Islam to be a “mental illness”, as said in this Facebook post. We haven’t found any instances of this term being used by a Chinese official.

This is a screengrab of a Facebook post from December 2023 that talks about the destruction of mosques in China.
This is a screengrab of a Facebook post from December 2023 that talks about the destruction of mosques in China. © Facebook / Kaushik Vyas

However, this idea is likely connected to the so-called “re-education” camps, essentially internment camps, that the Chinese government has been running since at least 2017 in the province of Xinjiang. Members of the Uyghur Muslim minority are detained here in an attempt to combat “religious extremism”, according to Chinese officials. 

An official Chinese Communist Party audio recording obtained by Radio Free Asia, a media outlet financed by the US Congress, characterizes the Uyghurs held in these camps as being “infected by an ideological illness”, which the officials claimed needed treatment like a “physical illness”. More than one million Uyghurs are thought to have been interned in these camps since 2018. 

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Bitcoin, AI and Magnificent 7: The emerging ETF trends as industry gathers for big conference

Over two thousand attendees are descending on the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach for the annual Exchange ETF conference. To entice participants, the organizers rented out the entire LIV Nightclub Miami at the hotel for a Super Bowl party Sunday night.

While much of the conference is an excuse to party among the ETF industry reps and the Registered Investment Advisors  (RIAs) that are the main attendees, the industry needs a lot of advice.

The Good news: still lots of money coming in, but the industry is maturing

The ETF juggernaut continues to rake in money, now with north of $8 trillion in assets under management.  Indexing/passive investing, the main impetus behind ETFs 30 years ago, continues to bring in new adherents as smarter investors, including the younger ones that have begun investing since the pandemic, come to understand the difficulty of outperforming the market.

The bad news is much of the easy money has already been made as the industry is now reaching middle aged. Just about every type of index fund that can be thought of is already in existence. 

To grow, the ETF industry has to expand the offerings of active management and devise new ways to entice investors.  

Actively managed strategies did well in 2023, accounting for about a quarter of all inflows.  Covered call strategies like the JPMorgan Equity Premium Income ETF (JEPI), which offered protection during a downturn, raked in money.  But with the broad markets hitting new highs, it’s not clear if investors will continue to pour money into covered call strategies that, by definition, underperform in rising markets.

Fortunately, the industry has proven very skilled at capturing whatever investing zeitgeist is in the air.  That can range from the silly (pot ETFs when there was no real pot industry) to ideas that have had some real staying power.

Six or seven years ago, it was thematic tech ETFs like cybersecurity or electric vehicles that pulled in investors. 

The big topics in 2024:  Bitcoin, AI, Magnificent 7 alternatives

In 2024, the industry is betting that the new crop of bitcoin ETFs will pull in billions.  Bitcoin for grandma?  We’ll see.

Besides bitcoin, the big topics here in Miami Beach are 1) A.I/ and what it’s going to do for financial advisors and investors, and 2) how to get clients to think about equity allocation beyond the Magnificent 7.

Notably absent is China investing.

Bitcoin for grandma?  Financial advisors are divided on whether to jump in

Ten spot bitcoin ETFs have successfully launched.  The heads of three of those, Matt Hougan, chief investment officer at Bitwise, Steve Kurz, global head of asset management at Galaxy and David LaValle, global head of ETFs at Grayscale, will lead a panel offering advice to financial advisors, who seem divided on how to proceed.

Ric Edelman, the founder of Edelman Financial Engines, the #1 RIA in the country and currently the head of the Digital Assets Council of Financial Professionals (DACFP), will also be present. 

Edelman has long been a bitcoin bull. He recently estimates bitcoin’s price will reach $150,000 within two years (about three times its current price), and has estimated that Independent RIAs, who collectively manage $8 trillion, could invest 2.5% of their assets under management in crypto in the next two to three years, which would translate into over $154 billion.

Inflows into bitcoin ETFs to date have been modest, but bitcoin ETFs are being viewed by some advisors as the first true bridge between traditional finance and the crypto community. 

But many advisors are torn about recommending them, not just because of the large number of competing products, but because of the legal minefields that still exist around bitcoin, specifically around SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s warning that any financial advisor recommending bitcoin would have to be mindful of “suitability” requirements for clients.

For many, those suitability requirements, along with the high volatility, continuing charges of manipulation, and the doubt about bitcoin as a true asset class will be enough to keep them away. 

The bitcoin ecosystem is in going into overdrive to convince the RIA community otherwise.

 Artificial intelligence: What can it do for the investing community?

Thematic tech investing (cybersecurity, robotics, cloud computing, electric vehicles, social media, etc.) has waxed and waned in the last decade, but there is no doubt Artificial Intelligence ETFs (IRBT, ROBT, BOTZ)  has recaptured some interest.  The problem is defining what an AI investment looks like and which companies are exposed to AI.

But the impact is already being felt by the financial advisory community.

Jason Pereira, senior partner & financial Planner, Woodgate Financial, is speaking on how financial advisors are using artificial intelligence.  There are amazing AI tools that financial advisors can now use.  Pereira describes how it is now possible to generate financial podcasts with just snippets of your own voice.  Just plug in a text, and it can generate a whole podcast without ever saying the actual words.  How to generate text?  In theory, you could go to Chat GPT and say, for example, “Write 500 words about current issues in 401(k)s,” and rewrite it slightly for a specific audience.

In a world where a million people can now generate a podcast on financial advice, how do you maintain value?  Much of the lower skilled tasks (data analysis) will quickly become commodified, but Pereira believes a very big difference will quickly emerge between volume and quality.

Equity Allocation Beyond the Magnificent Seven

Financial advisors are beset by clients urging them to throw money at the Magnificent 7.  Roundhill’s new Magnificent 7 ETF (MAGS) has pulled in big money in the last few months, now north of $100 million in assets under management.

Since the end of last year, there have been enormous inflows into technology ETFs (Apple, Microsoft, NVIDIA), and modest inflows into communications (Meta and Alphabet) and consumer discretionary (Amazon).  Most everything else has languished, with particular outflows in energy, health care, and materials. 

Advisors are eager for advice on how to talk to clients about the concentration risks involved in investing solely in big-cap tech and how to allocate for the long haul. 

Alex Zweber, managing director investment strategy at Parametric and Eric Veiel, head of global investments and CIO at T. Rowe Price are leading a panel on alternative approaches that have had some success recently, including ETFs that invest in option overlays, but also on quality and momentum investing in general, which overlaps but is broader than simply investing in the Magnificent 7.

Stop talking about numbers and returns and start offering “human-centric” advice

Talk to any financial advisor for more than a few minutes, and they will likely tell you how difficult it is dealing with some clients who are convinced they should put all their money into NVIDIA, or Bolivian tin mines, or who have investing ADHD and want to throw all their money in one investment one day, then pull it out the next.

Brian Portnoy and Neil Bage, co-founders of Shaping Wealth, are leading one of the early panels on how financial advisors can move away from an emphasis on numbers and more toward engaging with their clients on a more personal and emotional level.

Sounds touchy-feely, but competition for clients has become intense, and there is a new field emerging on how to provide financial advice that is less centered on numbers (assets under management, fees, quarterly statements), and more centered on developing the investor’s understanding of behavioral finance and emotional intelligence. 

Under this style of investment advice, often called “human-centric” or “human-first” advice, more time may be spent discussing behavioral biases that lead to investing mistakes than on stock market minutiae. This may help the clients develop behaviors that, for example, are better suited to longer term investing (less trading, less market timing).  

Advocates of this approach believe this is a much better way to engage and keep clients for the long term.

What’s missing? China

For years, a panel on international investing, and specifically emerging markets/China investing, was a staple at ETF conferences.

Not anymore.  Notably absent is any discussion of international investing, but particularly China, where political risk is now perceived to be so high that investors are fleeing China and China ETFs. 

Indeed, investing “ex-China” is a bit of a thing.

The iShares Emerging Markets ex-China ETF (EMXC) launched with little fanfare in 2017 and had almost no assets under management for several years.  That changed in late 2022, when China ETFs began a long slow descent, and inflows exploded into EMXC from investors who still wanted emerging market exposure, just not to China.

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A Word and A Chart About and On Alibaba is one of the world’s largest wholesale marketplaces.

To be honest, I had never gone to their website until today, even though we bought shares in BABA 2 weeks ago. So, in case you are like me and have not checked them out, they sell a lot of consumer items in bulk. 

And they also sell pretty much everything. For instance, if you want a 1000w off-grid wind power Free Energy System for your home or business, you can get one and find an online description of the supplier, including their annual revenue. Plus, if you want them in bulk, you can order 1000 sets at a reduced price.

BABA has proven controversial a lot, most recently with a lawsuit settlement on monopolistic practices. However, the impact on their revenues is nominal and, in fact, could be a plus, as the company’s stock price trades at just 8x net profits.

Anyway, China overall, has had no shortage of bad press. Yet, before we learned Jack Ma and others bought up to $200 million of BABA stock, the stock looked and still looks appealing to us. If one is looking to be a contrarian to all the bad press, then BABA is a company with solid fundamentals.

Hence, the charts are in focus.

There are a few technical aspects we like to focus on that stand out in the Daily chart.

  1. The new 60+ day low followed by a gap higher leaving a potential long term bottom.
  2. That gap up also reversed the price below the January 6-month calendar range.
  3. Although it continues to underperform the benchmark, it is nearly on par.
  4. Real Motion has a bullish divergence, in that momentum is above the 50-DMA while price trades just below its 50-DMA.
  5. Relative to the China ETFs KWEB and FXI, BABA is doing better.

Now looking ahead:

  1. The 6-month calendar range is support and should hold, while the recent lows is the optimal risk point.
  2. The 50-DMA needs to clear and confirm as a phase change to recuperation.
  3. The January 6-month calendar range high, at 76.69, is another key area to clear.

On these types of trades, risk is extremely important. Finding bottoms is a tricky trade, but when done right, can have huge payouts.

Finally, BABA reports earnings pre-US market opening on February 7th.

For more detailed trading information about our blended models, tools and trader education courses, contact Rob Quinn, our Chief Strategy Consultant, to learn more.

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  • S&P 500 (SPY): 480 now the pivotal zone.
  • Russell 2000 (IWM): 195 pivotal, 190 support to hold.
  • Dow (DIA): 375 support.
  • Nasdaq (QQQ): 415 support.
  • Regional Banks (KRE): 50 key to hold.
  • Semiconductors (SMH): 184 support.
  • Transportation (IYT): 262 now pivotal.
  • Biotechnology (IBB): 135 pivotal.
  • Retail (XRT): Flirting with 70, which has to clear and hold to stay very bullish.

Mish Schneider

Director of Trading Research and Education

Mish Schneider

About the author:
Mish Schneider serves as Director of Trading Education at For nearly 20 years, has provided financial information and education to thousands of individuals, as well as to large financial institutions and publications such as Barron’s, Fidelity, ILX Systems, Thomson Reuters and Bank of America. In 2017, MarketWatch, owned by Dow Jones, named Mish one of the top 50 financial people to follow on Twitter. In 2018, Mish was the winner of the Top Stock Pick of the year for RealVision.

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China’s Pacific charm offensive pays off as Nauru drops Taipei for Beijing

The island nation of Nauru’s shock announcement that it was severing ties with Taiwan in favour of Beijing has brought China’s charm offensive across the Pacific into sharp relief – and highlighted the limited options available to micro-states desperate for a way out of economic dead-ends.

Where most countries send congratulations to those who win presidential elections, the Pacific Island nation of Nauru sent an altogether different message to Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te. After the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s win in the presidential election over the weekend, Nauru notified Taiwan on Monday that it would no longer be recognising the island as an independent nation. Instead, Nauru’s 12,000-odd inhabitants would from now on consider Taiwan “an inalienable part of China’s territory”.

The loss of Nauru’s support is just the latest blow to Taiwan’s dwindling group of diplomatic allies, a motley collection of developing nations across Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific that continue to recognise Taiwan – under its formal name of the Republic of China – as the sole legitimate representative of China on the international stage. This binary choice – neither Beijing nor Taipei will allow countries to recognise both claimants – is a holdover from the years following the Chinese Civil War, when Chiang Kai-shek’s defeated Kuomintang continued to represent China at the UN from its outpost on Taiwan.

Since DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s 2016 election to Taiwan’s presidency ushered in the end of an eight-year “diplomatic truce” between Taipei and Beijing, the People’s Republic of China has poached nine of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies through promises of economic aid and development. By shrinking the circle of countries that continue to recognise Taipei internationally, Beijing seems bent on further isolating Taiwan, incensed by what it characterises as the DPP’s dangerous separatist tendencies. Nauru makes ten.

‘Chequebook diplomacy’

Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London and co-author of a new book, “The Political Thought of Xi Jinping”, said that Taiwan’s unwillingness to reach deeper into its pockets was making it increasingly difficult to convince its remaining diplomatic allies – now numbering just 12 – to stay by its side.

“The first thing to bear in mind is that Nauru is a country of just less than 13,000 people, so the provision of economic or development incentives that can persuade it to switch recognition from Taipei to Beijing can be quite small,” he said. “The issue here is that Taiwan’s government has, for a few years now, decided not to go head to head with the Chinese government in chequebook diplomacy, so it will lose some of its ‘allies’ to Beijing if Beijing is determined enough to outbid Taiwan.”

Despite President Tsai Ing-wen’s declaration in 2016 that Taipei would no longer buy support through “chequebook diplomacy”, Taiwan has continued to provide humanitarian aid and concessional loans to the handful of countries that recognise it. Nauru has hosted a Taiwanese technical mission involved in agriculture, energy, scholarships and training since 2006, and has been a consistent recipient of grants and below-market-rate loans from Taipei. Alongside Australia and New Zealand, Taiwan continues to pay into Nauru’s Intergenerational Trust Fund, set up in 2015 to help replace the nation’s vanishing phosphate revenues.

Apparently, it hasn’t been enough. Nauru is now the latest Pacific Island nation to make the switch to Beijing. In 2019, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands both declared for China, with Taiwanese media alleging that the latter had been convinced to abandon Taipei in exchange for some $500 million in financial aid – a claim that has never been confirmed.

But it’s no secret that China has been stepping up its economic and diplomatic engagement with nations across the Pacific, with Beijing believed to have spent $3.9 billion in aid in the region between 2008 and 2021 to Taiwan’s $395 million over the same period. And while Taiwan’s engagement with countries with smaller populations has effectively meant that it has spent twice as much as Beijing per capita, China is also steadily abandoning the large-scale, big-budget infrastructure projects characteristic of the early years of its Belt and Road Initiative for more targeted projects in health and agriculture.

Keeping its head above water

Dr Asha Sundaramurthy, an expert on the Oceania region, said that the results of China’s charm offensive were clear.

“China’s volume of aid and increased engagement in the region has played a significant role in shifting the recognition of Taiwan in the last decade, with Kiribati and Solomon Islands reversing in 2019,” she said. “Now, only the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Palau remain as three Pacific Islands recognising Taiwan.”

This is not the first time that Nauru has seemingly sold its diplomatic recognition to the highest bidder. Nauru chose to recognise China in July 2002 after more than two decades of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Taiwan’s foreign ministry accused China at the time of buying Nauru’s loyalty with $137 million in grants and debt repayments. The government reversed its decision in May 2005, recognising Taipei once again as the rightful China. The following year, the Taiwanese government funded Nauru’s purchase of a Boeing 737 jet to replace an earlier aircraft – the nation’s only one – that had been repossessed by American financiers the year before.

A few scant years later, Nauru would also become one of the only countries in the world to officially recognise the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. Even Russia’s close ally Belarus baulked at acknowledging the renegade provinces, but Nauru – alongside Nicaragua and Venezuela – established relations with both self-proclaimed states. According to Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, the Kremlin rewarded the island nation for its support with some $50 million in humanitarian aid.

Although this transactional approach to international relations may seem mercenary, Nauru’s modern history makes it clear that the country has been left with few other ways to, quite literally, keep its head above water. A remote Pacific Island nation covering just 21 square kilometres, Nauru’s relationship with the vast world beyond its shores changed drastically following the discovery of high-grade phosphate reserves there on the eve of the 20th century. Built up over untold thousands of years by the fossilised droppings of the seabirds that roosted on the tiny island’s central plateau, these phosphate reserves would prove an invaluable source of fertiliser for the British Empire once the island nation was wrested from German hands after World War I.

Under the stewardship of the British Phosphate Commissioners – representatives of Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain who were given a mandate by the League of Nations to mine the nation’s phosphate to sell to the Empire’s farmers at below-market rates – more than 35 million metric tonnes of the fertiliser were stripped from the island by the time the nation won independence in 1968. By then, more than a third of the island had been strip-mined, leaving the central plateau a wasteland of sun-bleached limestone towers and shattered coral.

Nauru’s primary phosphate reserves are now all but exhausted. With little left to fall back on aside from selling off fishing rights, Nauru has become one of the countries most reliant on foreign aid to survive – and one of the low-lying island nations most vulnerable to climate crisis.

Stripped of arable land and frantic for new sources of revenue, the government has become deeply dependent on a deal with Australia to operate an offshore processing centre for asylum-seekers hoping to reach Australia by boat. The processing centre was estimated as being likely to generate more than $100 million for Nauru in 2024, on top of the $31 million given directly by Australia in development assistance in 2023. According to the US-based Migration Policy Institute, Australian payments to Nauru through the deal accounted for about two-thirds of the island’s total revenue in 2021-2022. More than 15 percent of the island’s population was employed at the centre in 2021, with many more finding work in the secondary service industries that sprung up around the operation. But with the number of detainees currently held there believed to have dwindled to a bare dozen and Australia winding down its financing of the scheme, it’s a deal that seems unlikely to keep delivering.

Beijing’s ‘punishment’ against Taiwan

Speaking to Taiwan’s semi-official news agency CNA, an unnamed Taiwanese diplomat alleged that Nauru had asked Taipei for roughly $83.23 million to help fill a financial shortfall caused by the processing centre’s temporary shutdown. The Taiwanese official told CNA that Beijing had likely offered to step in and make up the shortfall. An unnamed Australian official in Taiwan told the Australian Financial Review that the report was accurate, although the official said that the processing centre remained open despite only holding a handful of people inside. Neither Nauru nor China have publicly commented on any financial incentives for the switch in affiliation.

Tsang said that the timing of Nauru’s announcement – so soon after the DPP won a renewed mandate – was no coincidence. 

“The timing will suggest that Beijing has worked on the government of Nauru well before the Taiwanese elections, and this is one of the options Beijing has as a ‘punishment’ against Taiwan and its people for choosing a presidential candidate Beijing has said they should not support,” he said. “But among the range of options Beijing has to show its displeasure, this is one that does relatively little damage to Taiwan.”

Although losing the friendship of a tiny island nation halfway around the world may ultimately mean little to Taipei, Nauru may well be counting on China’s continued largesse to give it a way out of its economic dead-end.

“For the islands’ perspective, they seek to partake in the economic growth of the emerging Asian Century – which is spearheaded by China,” Sundaramurthy said. “The island countries are also playing a delicate game of balance between security and development while ensuring the region avoids becoming a site of power contestation.”

Despite Taipei’s shock at Nauru’s announcement, Tsang said, Taipei’s increasing diplomatic isolation – on paper, at least – may end up having unexpected benefits as Taiwan continues to re-imagine its own identity.

“When no country formally recognises Taiwan by its formal name, the Republic of China, it will just be known as Taiwan,” he said. “So it will get to a point when it will be against Beijing’s interest to reduce further small states that recognise Taiwan by its official name.”

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Taiwan’s new president: Five things you need to know about William Lai

TAIPEI — Forget Xi Jinping or Joe Biden for a second. Meet Taiwan’s next President William Lai, upon whom the fate of U.S.-China relations — and global security over the coming few years — is now thrust.

The 64-year-old, currently Taiwan’s vice president, has led the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a historic third term in power, a first for any party since Taiwan became a democracy in 1996.

For now, the capital of Taipei feels as calm as ever. For Lai, though, the sense of victory will soon be overshadowed by a looming, extended period of uncertainty over Beijing’s next move. Taiwan’s Communist neighbor has laid bare its disapproval of Lai, whom Beijing considers the poster boy of the Taiwanese independence movement.

All eyes are now on how the Chinese leader — who less than two weeks ago warned Taiwan to face up to the “historical inevitability” of being absorbed into his Communist nation — will address the other inevitable conclusion: That the Taiwanese public have cast yet another “no” vote on Beijing.

1. Beijing doesn’t like him — at all

China has repeatedly lambasted Lai, suggesting that he will be the one bringing war to the island.

As recently as last Thursday, Beijing was trying to talk Taiwanese voters out of electing its nemesis-in-chief into the Baroque-style Presidential Office in Taipei.

“Cross-Strait relations have taken a turn for the worse in the past eight years, from peaceful development to tense confrontation,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Chen Binhua said, adding that Lai would now be trying to follow an “evil path” toward “military tension and war.”

While Beijing has never been a fan of the DPP, which views China as fundamentally against Taiwan’s interests , the personal disgust for Lai is also remarkable.

Part of that stems from a 2017 remark, in which Lai called himself a “worker for Taiwanese independence,” which has been repeatedly cited by Beijing as proof of his secessionist beliefs.

Without naming names, Chinese President Xi harshly criticized those promoting Taiwan independence in a speech in 2021.

“Secession aimed at Taiwan independence is the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation,” Xi said. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end, and will be disdained by the people and sentenced by the court of history.”

2. All eyes are on the next 4 months

Instability is expected to be on the rise over the next four months, until Lai is formally inaugurated on May 20.

No one knows how bad this could get, but Taiwanese officials and foreign diplomats say they don’t expect the situation to be as tense as the aftermath of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in 2022.

Already, days before the election, China sent several spy balloons to monitor Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry. On the trade front, China was also stepping up the pressure, announcing a possible move to reintroduce tariffs on some Taiwanese products. Cases of disinformation and electoral manipulation have also been unveiled by Taiwanese authorities.

Those developments, combined, constitute what Taipei calls hybrid warfare — which now risks further escalation given Beijing’s displeasure with the new president.

3. Lai has to tame his independent instinct

In a way, he has already.

Speaking at the international press conference last week, Lai said he had no plan to declare independence if elected to the presidency.

DPP insiders say they expect Lai to stick to outgoing Tsai Ing-wen’s approach, without saying things that could be interpreted as unilaterally changing the status quo.

They also point to the fact that Lai chose as vice-presidential pick Bi-khim Hsiao, a close confidante with Tsai and former de facto ambassador to Washington. Hsiao has developed close links with the Biden administration, and will play a key role as a bridge between Lai and the U.S.

4. Taiwan will follow international approach

The U.S., Japan and Europe are expected to take precedence in Lai’s diplomatic outreach, while relations with China will continue to be negative.

Throughout election rallies across the island, the DPP candidate repeatedly highlighted the Tsai government’s efforts at diversifying away from the trade reliance on China, shifting the focus to the three like-minded allies.

Southeast Asia has been another top destination for these readjusted trade flows, DPP has said.

According to Taiwanese authorities, Taiwan’s exports to China and Hong Kong last year dropped 18.1 percent compared to 2022, the biggest decrease since they started recording this set of statistics in 1982.

In contrast, Taiwanese exports to the U.S. and Europe rose by 1.6 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, with the trade volumes reaching all-time highs.

However, critics point out that China continues to be Taiwan’s biggest trading partner, with many Taiwanese businesspeople living and working in the mainland.

5. Lai might face an uncooperative parliament

While vote counting continues, there’s a high chance Lai will be dealing with a divided parliament, the Legislative Yuan.

Before the election, the Kuomintang (KMT) party vowed to form a majority with Taiwan People’s Party in the Yuan, thereby rendering Lai’s administration effectively a minority government.

While that could pose further difficulties for Lai to roll out policies provocative to Beijing, a parliament in opposition also might be a problem when it comes to Taiwan’s much-needed defense spending.

“A divided parliament is very bad news for defense. KMT has proven that they can block defense spending, and the TPP will also try to provide what they call oversight, and make things much more difficult,” said Syaru Shirley Lin, who chairs the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation, a Taipei-based policy think tank.

“Although all three parties said they wanted to boost defense, days leading up to the election … I don’t think that really tells you what’s going to happen in the legislature,” Lin added. “There’s going to be a lot of policy trading.”

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Taiwan’s Lai Ching-te wins presidential vote, vows to defend island from China threats

Taiwan’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), secured a historic third term on Saturday as Vice President Lai Ching-te won the country’s widely watched presidential election with 40.05 percent of the vote. 

Lai, along with his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim – Taiwan’s former representative to the United States – won a total of more than 5.5 million votes.  

Taiwan’s electoral system is based on first-past-the-post voting, awarding the victory to the presidential-VP pairing with the highest percentage of votes. 

Turnout on the self-ruled island was put at more than 70 percent with some 19.5 million Taiwanese eligible to vote. 

A favourite to succeed incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, who is due to step down at the end of her second consecutive term in May, Lai’s win was in line with previous forecasts. 

Lai ran against the main opposition party’s – the Kuomintang – candidate Hou Yu-ih , who came in a close second with 33.5 percent of the vote and the Taiwan People’s Party’s Ko Wen-Je who trailed both candidates with only 26.5 percent. 

Speaking as last results trickled in, Lai told a press conference that the election was a victory for Taiwan’s democracy. 

“We are telling the international community that between democracy and authoritarianism, we will stand on the side of democracy,” he said. 

In an election framed as a choice between “peace and war” by China, which deems the DPP’s governance as “incompatible” with cross-strait peace, Lai’s victory comes at a crucial moment amid rising tensions between Taipei and Beijing. 

Claiming the island as part of its territory, Beijing responded to the election results by saying that “reunification” with Taiwan is still “inevitable”. 

The vote “will not impede the inevitable trend of China’s reunification”, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Chen Binhua said in a statement carried by state news agency Xinhua.

President Joe Biden reiterated that the US is “not supporting” Taiwan’s independence, after Taiwanese voters rebuffed China and gave the ruling party a third presidential term.

Heir apparent  

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

Labelled a separatist by Beijing, the winner in Taiwan’s presidential 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.   

“As president, I have an important responsibility to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Lai said. 

“I will act in accordance with our democratic and free constitutional order in a manner that is balanced and maintains the cross-strait status quo under the principles of dignity and parity,” he added. 

Lai has 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.   

“At the same time, we are also determined to safeguard Taiwan from continuing threats and intimidation from China,” he said.  

Lai told the press conference that the Taiwanese people have “successfully resisted efforts from external forces to influence this election”. 

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

China relations 

Warning against continued DPP rule, China has upped the pressure on Taiwan ahead of elections by flying balloons in the Taiwan Strait and threatening trade measures against Taipei, which accused Bejing of “economic coercion”.  

“He [Lai] 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.    

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. 

“Lai is looking to maintain the status quo … which [for the DPP] means China and Taiwan are two separate, sovereign nations,” said Chen Fang-yu, assistant professor of political science at Soochow University in Taiwan.    

Split parliament 

Meanwhile cross-strait relations would also depend on the government’s grip over parliament, which has greatly diminished with the election of numerous legislators from the KMT, Chang said. 

Taiwan’s legislative election was held simultaneously with the presidential vote with results showing a split parliament with no single majority.  

“The DPP performed quite badly in the legislative election, they’re going to meet heavy resistance from the blue party [KMT] in the next term of the Legislative Yuan,” Chang said. 

The KMT won 39 out of 113 seats in parliament compared to the DPP’s 38. 

“China, however, may find itself with new communication and exchange channels in Taiwan thanks to KMT legislators, which would help them in their goal of reunification,” he said 

“This [split parliament] also means uncertainty for domestic politics, which may increase the US’s doubts about Taiwan,” he added.  

While the tone for relations between Taiwan and China will partly be determined by Saturday’s outcome, the upcoming presidential election in the US will also play a huge role.  

“The 2024 US election is also crucial to cross-strait relations, whether it be Biden’s re-election or Trump’s return to power … this will play a big part in geopolitics between the US, China and Taiwan,” Chang said. 

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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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We can tackle climate change, jobs, growth and global trade. Here’s what’s stopping us

We must leave behind established modes of thinking and seek creative workable solutions.

Another tumultuous year has confirmed that the global economy is at a turning point. We face four big challenges: the climate transition; the good-jobs problem; an economic-development crisis, and the search for a newer, healthier form of globalization.

To address each, we must leave behind established modes of thinking and seek creative workable solutions, while recognizing that these efforts will be necessarily uncoordinated and experimental.

Climate change is the most daunting challenge, and the one that has been overlooked the longest — at great cost. If we are to avoid condemning humanity to a dystopian future, we must act fast to decarbonize the global economy. We have long known that we must wean ourselves from fossil fuels, develop green alternatives and shore up our defenses against the lasting environmental damage that past inaction has already caused. However, it has become clear that little of this is likely to be achieved through global cooperation or economists’ favored policies.

Instead, individual countries will forge ahead with their own green agendas, implementing policies that best account for their specific political constraints, as the United States, China and the European Union have been doing. The result will be a hodge-podge of emission caps, tax incentives, research and development support, and green industrial policies with little global coherence and occasional costs for other countries. Messy though it may be, an uncoordinated push for climate action may be the best we can realistically hope for.

Inequality, the erosion of the middle class, and labor-market polarization have caused significant damage to our social environment.

But our physical environment is not the only threat we face. Inequality, the erosion of the middle class, and labor-market polarization have caused equally significant damage to our social environment. The consequences are now widely evident. Economic, regional, and cultural gaps within countries are widening, and liberal democracy (and the values that support it) appears to be in decline, reflecting rising support for xenophobic, authoritarian populists and the growing backlash against scientific and technical expertise.

Social transfers and the welfare state can help, but what is most needed is an increase in the supply of good jobs for the less-educated workers who have lost access to them. We need more productive, well-remunerated employment opportunities that can provide dignity and social recognition for those without a college degree. Expanding the supply of such jobs will require not only more investment in education and more robust defense of workers’ rights, but also a new brand of industrial policies for services, where the bulk of future employment will be created.

The disappearance of manufacturing jobs over time reflects both greater automation and stronger global competition. Developing countries have not been immune to either factor. Many have experienced “premature de-industrialization”: their absorption of workers into formal, productive manufacturing firms is now very limited, which means they are precluded from pursuing the kind of export-oriented development strategy that has been so effective in East Asia and a few other countries. Together with the climate challenge, this crisis of growth strategies in low-income countries calls for an entirely new development model.

Governments will have to experiment, combining investment in the green transition with productivity enhancements in labor-absorbing services.

As in the advanced economies, services will be low- and middle-income countries’ main source of employment creation. But most services in these economies are dominated by very small, informal enterprises — often sole proprietorships — and there are essentially no ready-made models of service-led development to emulate. Governments will have to experiment, combining investment in the green transition with productivity enhancements in labor-absorbing services.

Finally, globalization itself must be reinvented. The post-1990 hyper-globalization model has been overtaken by the rise of U.S.-China geopolitical competition, and by the higher priority placed on domestic social, economic, public-health, and environmental concerns. No longer fit for purpose, globalization as we know it will have to be replaced by a new understanding that rebalances national needs and the requirements of a healthy global economy that facilitates international trade and long-term foreign investment.

Most likely, the new globalization model will be less intrusive, acknowledging the needs of all countries (not just major powers) that want greater policy flexibility to address domestic challenges and national-security imperatives. One possibility is that the U.S. or China will take an overly expansive view of its security needs, seeking global primacy (in the U.S. case) or regional domination (China). The result would be a “weaponization” of economic interdependence and significant economic decoupling, with trade and investment treated as a zero-sum game.

The biggest gift major powers can give to the world economy is to manage their own domestic economies well.

But there could also be a more favorable scenario in which both powers keep their geopolitical ambitions in check, recognizing that their competing economic goals are better served through accommodation and cooperation. This scenario might serve the global economy well, even if — or perhaps because — it falls short of hyper-globalization. As the Bretton Woods era showed, a significant expansion of global trade and investment is compatible with a thin model of globalization, wherein countries retain considerable policy autonomy with which to foster social cohesion and economic growth at home. The biggest gift major powers can give to the world economy is to manage their own domestic economies well.

All these challenges call for new ideas and frameworks. We do not need to throw conventional economics out the window. But to remain relevant, economists must learn to apply the tools of their trade to the objectives and constraints of the day. They will have to be open to experimentation, and sympathetic if governments engage in actions that do not conform to the playbooks of the past.

Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at Harvard Kennedy School, is president of the International Economic Association and the author of Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy (Princeton University Press, 2017).

This commentary was published with the permission of Project Syndicate — Confronting Our Four Biggest Economic Challenges

More: Biden administration’s antitrust victories are much-needed wins for consumers

Also read: ‘Dr. Doom’ Nouriel Roubini: ‘Worst-case scenarios appear to be the least likely.’ For now.

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