Taipei replica in remote Chinese province fans Taiwan invasion fears

Satellite images verified by FRANCE 24 reveal that China has built a replica of Taipei’s presidential district in remote Inner Mongolia, fuelling speculation that Beijing intends to use the site as a training ground to prepare for a future invasion of Taiwan.


The satellite images show a detailed replica of the heart of Taipei – albeit surrounded by the arid landscape of Inner Mongolia instead of Taiwan’s lush vegetation.  

First posted on social media by a Taiwanese data analyst, on March 26, they were later picked up by the website Taiwan News, under the ominous headline: “China creates Taipei mockup to train for invasion”. 

FRANCE 24 was able to verify the existence of the mockup, located some 1,200 kilometres west of Beijing.

Sim Tack, an analyst at intelligence firm Force Analysis, which monitors conflict zones and has access to satellite imagery, said construction of the replica began in March 2021 and lasted approximately one year. 

He said the site features buildings and façades “that are inspired by what you can see in Taipei, without having exactly the same size or shape”.

An area of interest 

The satellite images reveal a layout of streets strongly resembling the Bo’ai Special Zone, a restricted area in Taipei’s Zhongzheng District that houses Taiwan’s most important state buildings, including the presidential palace, the supreme court, the ministry of justice and the central bank of Taiwan.  

The Bo’ai Special Zone is subject to specific regulations, including a strict ban on overflight. 

When quizzed about the images last week, Taiwan’s Defence Minister Chiu Juo-cheng appeared to play down their significance.  

“It is inevitable that the Chinese army produces this type of imitation,” he told reporters, adding that Taiwan was also capable of replicating foreign sites for military training purposes. 

The minister’s response was surprisingly measured, “considering that in recent months we have seen China multiply its hostile acts towards Taiwan”, noted Marc Lanteigne, a China expert at Norway’s Arctic University. 

Beijing considers Taiwan a part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to assert control over the island. Under President Xi Jinping, it has stepped up its pressure on the self-governing island, mounting a series of incursions by fighter jets into Taiwan’s airspace in autumn 2023. 

The existence of a training site to rehearse a potential attack on the presidential palace in Taipei is a stark reminder of the geopolitical tensions in the region, and of the threat weighing on Taiwan.  

Propaganda tool 

Experts note that Taiwan has faced this type of intimidation before, most notably in 2015, when the Chinese military produced an almost exact replica of the presidential palace in Taipei, at a separate site in Inner Mongolia. 

At the time, Beijing chose to showcase the mockup, said Lewis Eves, a Chinese security expert at the University of Sheffield. 

“We found this out because the video of a simulated assault on the building was broadcast on Chinese television and the army website published images of a training exercise in the grounds around the palace,” he explained.  

Eves said he was not suprised to see the Chinese army produce a similar replica almost a decade later, pointing to “similarities between the current geopolitical context in the region and the one that prevailed in 2015”.  

Back then, Taiwan was gearing up for a high-stakes presidential context in 2016, just like the recent vote that took place in January of this year. Tensions between China and regional rival Japan over disputed islands in the South China Sea were also at a high in 2015 – much as they are today.  

Now as then, “Beijing has deemed it necessary to stage a show of force aimed both at Taiwan and its own public opinion, in order to whip up nationalist sentiment”, said Eves.  

At a time of heightened international tensions, China is “seeking to rally public opinion behind the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] by playing the nationalist card”, said the security expert. And restating its claim over Taiwan in the interests of Chinese “national unity” is part of this effort, he added. 

‘Psychological warfare’ 

In addition to serving propaganda purposes, the construction of Taipei replicas allows Chinese authorities to wage a form of “psychological warfare”, said China expert Ho Ting (Bosco) Hung, a geopolitical analyst at The International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) Verona.  

“It’s clearly a way of telling Taiwan that if the island’s authorities refuse to bend to China’s demands, Beijing is preparing military options,” he explained.  

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

Analysts say China is unlikely to go to such lengths merely to send a signal to Taiwan and its own population. Unlike in 2015, they note, the latest release of satellite images from Inner Mongolia is not Beijing’s own doing. In fact, the Chinese military has been considerably more discreet this time.  

Back in 2015, the replica presidential palace was nestled in the heart of the Zhurihe training compound, described by Chinese officials as the “largest in Asia”. Satellite images of the facility even show a building that bears a striking resemblance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  

The new constructions, on the other hand, are located several hundred kilometres away, in a region that is “probably less closely monitored by Western satellites than the Zhurihe base”, noted Lanteigne.  

It is possible that “the Chinese authorities were waiting for the right time to go public about the new site, but were beaten to it,” he added.  

And while the replica of the Bo’ai Special Zone “may indeed serve propaganda purposes”, Hung argued, the most likely explanation is that “its primary purpose is military”. 

Invasion scenarios 

The new Taipei mockup is far more detailed than the one produced in 2015, meaning it could be used for two distinct military scenarios, the first of which involves an aerial bombardment of the Bo’ai area – or what the Taiwan News website described as a “decapitation strike on Taipei”.  

Such an operation would be extremely complex to mount given “the high quality of Taiwan’s air defences”, Hung cautioned, though adding that “an aerial attack remains the most rapid option to invade the island”. 

The other scenario involves a land invasion of the island, located roughly 100 miles (160 kilometres) off the coast of southeastern China. 

“If it were only contemplating a bombardment of the area, China would probably not have gone through the trouble of replicating an entire neighbourhood of Taipei,” argued Lanteigne. “Urban warfare is the hardest of all, so it’s only natural that Beijing should try to get ready for it.”  

In this respect, Taiwan may not be the only target on Beijing’s mind.  

“Xi Jinping is pushing to reform and modernise his army, and knowing how to fight in an urban environment is an essential aspect of training,” Lanteigne added. “It is possible the army has chosen to recreate Taipei’s presidential district because that is one likely setting where it may have to intervene.”  

This article is a translation of the original in French.

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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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‘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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A lookahead for 2024: US elections, Paris Olympics, COP 29 and more

The year 2024 may have only just begun but it looks set to be an action-packed one. With a number of pivotal political, environmental, cultural and athletic events on the horizon, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s to come. FRANCE 24 sets out a a timeline of a few major events that are certain to define 2024.

Issued on:

7 min

  • Expansion of five-nation BRICS group

BRICS – an intergovernmental bloc that currently includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – has opened its doors to five new members. The decision was reached at the 2023 annual BRICS summit in Johannesburg in August. As of January 1, 2024, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Egypt and Ethiopia are members of the bloc. Argentina was invited to join but its new president Javier Milei decided to pull out.

With the expansion, the alliance reaffirms its status as the voice of the Global South and is likely to bear more weight on the international stage, which has been dominated by Western nations since the end of the Cold War. Combined, the expanded BRICS represents a population of about 3.5 billion, which accounts for 45% of the world’s population.

Read moreHow the BRICS nations failed to rebuild the global financial order

  • In the pressure cooker of Taiwan’s presidential election

The first election of 2024 is a high-stakes race with regional and global implications. On January 13, Taiwan’s voters will choose between three candidates: Vice President Lai Ching-te of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang and Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party, after the two opposition parties failed to form an alliance. China, fiercely hostile to the current government, has called the race a choice between war and peace. It considers Taiwan to be an integral part of its territory and has recently escalated its intimidation campaign around the island to levels unseen in decades. The election results risk igniting tensions between the US and China. Although the US has said it does not support Taiwan independence, it supports its democracy and supplies the island with military aid.

Read more‘War with China is not unavoidable,’ says Taiwan’s foreign minister


  • Africa Cup of Nations to kick off in Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast is gearing up to host the 34th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, which will take place from January 13 to February 11. Will the Ivorian elephants be crowned winners on home soil? Will they dethrone winners of the last African Cup, Senegal’s mighty Lions of Teranga? Only time will tell. The first match will see hosts Ivory Coast take on Guinea-Bissau at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium north of Abidjan at 8pm GMT.

Who will bring home the trophy for the Africa Cup of Nations this year? © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

  • Putin looks set for re-election in Russian presidential election

Russians head to the polls on March 17 to cast their ballots in a presidential election that is likely to see President Vladimir Putin prolong his twenty-year-long grip on the country. Putin has ruled Russia since the start of the century – winning four presidential terms with a brief interlude as prime minister. The 71-year-old has methodically quashed any form of opposition in recent years. His most high-profile rival, Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, is currently serving a 19-year prison sentence in a penal colony north of the Arctic. Despite starting an immensely costly war in Ukraine that has killed thousands of Russian soldiers and sparked repeated attacks within the country’s borders, Putin still commands wide support.

Read moreNavalny’s penal colony in the Arctic is direct heir to the Russian Gulag


  • Indians to head to polls as Modi seeks third term in general elections

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Read moreHow Indian authorities ‘weaponised’ a New York Times report to target the press





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France will mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings along the Normandy coastline during World War II. On June 6, 1944, Allied forces mounted the largest amphibious invasion the world has ever seen – an event that marked the beginning of the liberation of German-occupied Western Europe. Heads of state, veterans and officials will  attend an international ceremony on Omaha Beach to honour the memory of these events and pay tribute to the fallen.  

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Read moreEU elections 2024: Do Europeans care?


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A person takes a photograph at dusk of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral with the wooden structure of the new spire in place during reconstruction work, on the Ile de la Cite in Paris on November 28, 202
The outline of the new spire of Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral can be seen on November 28, 2023. © Ludovic Marin, AFP


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The EU and Taiwan must partner up in the fight against disinformation

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

If the two could join forces in their endeavours, it is possible that they could fuel regional development in Southeast Asia and elsewhere within the Global South where China has developed influence and a rooted footprint via its Belt and Road Initiative, Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy writes.


In May, G7 leaders, meeting at the 2023 Hiroshima Summit, agreed that a “growing China that plays by international rules would be of global interest”. 

Their call, for continuing multilateral engagement with Beijing did, though, request that China not conduct interference activities aimed at undermining the integrity of democratic institutions, and that the country should do more to press Russia on its military aggression in Ukraine.

Conversely, at this month’s Belt and Road Forum of International Cooperation in Beijing, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the deepening of their mutual political trust, praising the close strategic coordination of the two countries. 

This followed Xi’s March visit to Moscow when the two leaders reinforced their ambition to remake the liberal international order, with the Chinese leader reassuring his “dear friend” that they are driving changes “that have not happened for one hundred years”.

This deepening of relations captures a new geopolitical reality, which many in Europe are still struggling to comprehend.

Sino-Russian cooperation a growing concern?

Looking eastwards, Europeans now see two former foes, China and Russia, bound together by their shared fear of liberal democracy. 

These regimes want to upend the world order so that it marries with their authoritarian agendas. 

The bilateral meeting between Xi and Putin on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum this month left no question about Beijing’s desire to curate and present an alternative worldview to the Global South, while strengthening its strategic alignment with Russia.

The meeting also consolidated Putin’s support towards China’s positioning on international affairs, in line with the Global Security Initiative, which Xi designed to help China achieve global primacy against a perceived backdrop of Western inhibitors.

The scale of Sino-Russian cooperation is vast, multi-faceted, and developing at speed. For, not only are their militaries and economies now in a state of synergy, their diplomats and state-controlled media are also collaborating closely. 

Chinese state-media and official social media channels routinely amplify selected pro-Kremlin narratives and are also platforming Russian media sanctioned by the West.

This growing strategic partnership is forcing the EU to finally get serious about its claims to rethink ties with China – and, by association, with Russia – in what European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the de-risking of trade and political relations. 

China is changing, and “moving into a new era of security and control”; it is time for Europe to change, too.

Brussels needs a defensive toolbox — Taiwan can help

How this can be effected, though, is still at a fragmented stage of development, and was a key point of discussion at this year’s Budapest Forum. The EU High Representative Josep Borrell has urged the bloc and its member states to work with democratic partners around the world to fight information manipulation by authoritarian regimes.

This is an important step, which marries with wider efforts to position the EU as an independent voice and force on the world stage.

By focusing on Russia and China as key foreign actors in information manipulation and interference, the EU continues to invest in strategic communication, vital to defend democracy.

But it is essential that closer coordination at home is supported by a defensive toolbox for economic security and stronger cooperation with like-minded international partners, including Taiwan, if the bloc is to effectively push back at China and Russia’s developing orbit. 

What is needed most to boost the immune system of democracies is a whole-of-society approach and an inclusive global conversation with the developing world.


The learning pools from Taiwan, and its response to Chinese aggression, are particularly important. For, here, over decades, democracy has withstood a barrage of disinformation and hostility from China. 

And, as a testament to the island nation’s strength, it has developed an approach that reflects the collective will of society and encourages a civic spirit that empowers citizens to feel that they hold the reigns of their democracy. 

This has extended to emerging and digital technologies, which are now seen through the lens of individual citizen interest, rather than benefiting those of the country’s political class.

Can the EU lead into action?

This has established a two-way trust, which, today, not only sees Taiwan hold the status as a pivotal node in the global semiconductor supply chain but also boasts a radically transparent democratic system of government. 

The lessons for Europe are numerous, and it is in the EU’s interest to explore Taiwan’s open and technologically driven governance and its expertise in media literacy. 


For the past decades, the government has invested in education to empower its citizens to make informed decisions about what they see and read. Together, the EU and Taiwan and other democratically-minded countries could develop a networked system that would undercut the space for authoritarian regimes to corrupt information streams with falsehoods.

The two, and others committed to this cause, should partner up and help anchor developing countries in democracy and limit China’s negative clout, mindful that significant infrastructure investment needs will remain across the Global South. 

Europe’s Global Gateway forum, for one, seeks to boost secure links in digital, energy, transport and education along with democratic values, while Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy has committed to integrating its capacity in digital technology to promote a digital New Southbound initiative. 

If the two could join forces in their endeavours, it is possible that they could fuel regional development in South East Asia and elsewhere within the Global South where China has developed influence and a rooted footprint via its Belt and Road Initiative.

All of this points to the necessity for Europe to be more global-minded in its policy, and to take on the role of upholding not just its own, but other, developing democratic ecosystems. 


Understanding the long-term consequences of information manipulation by authoritarian regimes to the rules-based order will be key to the future of global democracy. 

The question is: is the EU prepared to fundamentally change its position, and lead in this action?

Dr Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy is Assistant Professor at National Dong Hwa University in Hualien, Taiwan and the author of “Europe, China, and the Limits of Normative Power”.

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