Geopolitics

From Taliban To Taiwan, The Limits Of Military Power

China is beefing up its military arsenal, with Taiwan as its target. However, as with the continued difficulty to control the terrain in Afghanistan, we increasingly see that military power is far from ensuring the hegemony hoped for by stronger parties.

-Analysis-

PARIS — "How many divisions does the Pope have?" once famously asked Joseph Stalin, highlighting that despite religious or political authority, military force can always prevail in geopolitics. However, in the 21st century, one can legitimately ask what military force is for.

In Afghanistan, more than three months after the Taliban's lightning victory, terrorist violence continues. It seems that members of the defeated regular army have joined the ranks of the "fundamentalist international" to continue the fight against the Taliban. In short, military victory on the ground has not solved anything. The Taliban face the resilience of those nostalgic for freedom and progress on the one hand, and Islamic fanatics on the other.

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Biden On Taiwan, Alec Baldwin’s Fatal On-Set Shooting, CAPS LOCK day

👋 Здраво!*

Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.

[*Zdravo - Macedonian]

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Taiwan Tower Blaze, Norway Bow-And-Arrow Attack, Walruses From Space

👋 Bună ziua!*

Welcome to Thursday, where a blaze at a Taiwan tower kills at least 46, a suspect is in custody in the deadly Norway bow-and-arrow attack and scientists try to count walruses from space. We also take a look at what unites and opposes Russia's Vladimir and Ukraine's Volodymir.

[*Romanian]

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U.S.-Taliban Talks, China-Taiwan Tensions, Coconuts And Prayers

👋 Hallo!*

Welcome to Monday, where American and Taliban negotiators sat down for the first time since the U.S. withdrawal, Taiwan's president pushes back on China threats and a couple is accused of selling nuclear submarine secrets. We also look at the migratory path of the international bubble tea craze.

[*Norwegian]

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food / travel
Zhang Yan,

Taiwan To Hong Kong To L.A., Birth Of Bubble Tea Culture

Originating in Taiwan, bubble tea was one of many products hard hit by the pandemic. But the internationally-beloved, tapioca-based drink isn't just any import any longer — it's an entire culture.

TAIPEI — In mid-April, a report entitled "Another Unlikely Pandemic Shortage: Boba Tea" appeared inThe New York Times. This rang alarm bells for fans of the great Taiwanese delicacy, also called bubble tea, milk tea or Zhenzhu Naicha in Mandarin Chinese. The bad news came just as the weather was warming up, the tensions brought about by COVID-19 were easing, and the food and beverage industry was hoping for a pick-up in business.

The global pandemic caused a major shortage in the supply chain of tapioca pearls, bubble tea's most important ingredient that sets it apart from other beverages. More than 90 % of tapioca starch comes from Taiwan, as the three partners of Boba Guys, a franchise chain, explained to their clients in an Instagram post.

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Geopolitics
Wen-Ti Sung

Taiwan, Keeping Calm And Watching China

Despite a recent record number of Chinese military jets approaching Taiwanese air space, both citizens and leaders in the island nation have developed a method for living with the threat of an invasion from China.

China has been flying a record number of military aircrafts into Taiwan's “air defense identification zone" in recent days, heightening regional concerns about the risk of military escalation or even an outright war.

Taiwanese people are largely alert, but not alarmed. So, why are the Taiwanese not losing their minds over what seems to be intensifying “drums of war"?

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Taiwan Tensions, Zuckerberg’s "Deeply Illogical" Quote, Ali’s Art

👋 добры дзень!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where China/Taiwan tensions rise, Mark Zuckerberg responds to the Facebook whistleblower, and artworks by Muhammad Ali (gloves off) sell at auction. Kiev-based news website Livy Bereg also explains why the Pandora Papers revelations about global financial trickery may hit hardest in Ukraine.

[*Dobry dzien - Belarusian]

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Zuck’s Big Loss, Taiwan On Alert, Kirk In Space

👋 Na ngeen def!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where much of the world gets back online after a six-hour outage of Facebook-linked apps, the rich and powerful try to close the Pandora Papers box, and a Star Trek icon will boldly go where few have gone before. And remember that polluted Argentine lake that turned pink in July? Well, it's not pink anymore ...

[*Wolof - Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania]

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Geopolitics
Maximilian Kalkhof

China As Goliath: How Little Lithuania Defies Beijing

No other European state strikes a more confident tone toward China than Lithuania. Vilnius is resisting all the usual means of pressure — and has a clear demand that Europe and Germany defend their values.

VILNIUS — With its small population and modest economy, Lithuania has a reputation of being a minor actor on the European political stage. But under Deputy Foreign Minister Mantas Adomenas, it's breaking from the pack in a very notable way: attempting to strong arm China as the People's Republic vies for increasing global dominance.

While this might seem like a diplomatic and economic suicide mission, Adomenas sees few risks in promoting Lithuania's vision of democracy.This isn't a recent policy change: A member of the center-right Homeland Union, Adomenas says his party's China position had been maturing for a long time. When the Homeland Union was elected to government, Lithuania's relationship with China was essentially fixed along this hard line. It just had to be brought to life.

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Taiwan
Genevieve Mansfield

Popular Taiwanese Cactus Toy Raps In Polish About Cocaine

If not for a Polish shopper, it might have remained lost in translation for all the Taiwanese parents who've bought their kids the popular toy cactus that raps in some exotic language.

But a Polish mother living in the city of Taichung was doing some grocery shopping with her baby at the local Carrefour when she heard something that made her ears perk up: a foul-mouthed Polish rap song referencing cocaine and suicide. It turned out that the source of the obscene music was the singing cactus.

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Taiwan
Byun Chung Pei and Li Ka Ho*

Taiwan Counting On ''Self-Discipline'' To Stop COVID Spread

After having just a handful of cases, the virus is suddenly spreading on the island nation. Despite a relatively loose lockdown, residents boast that they know how to shut COVID down on their own.

TAIPEI — Since May 15, when Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center announced that Taipei and New Taipei City were on "Level 3 Epidemic Alert," photos and videos of street scenes of Taipei's "empty city" have filled social media. The posts often refer to Taiwan's "self-discipline," with one boasting "Watch out world, Taiwan will only demonstrate once how it will lift the level 3 (alert) within two weeks." What explains such public confidence?

Indeed, Taiwan's Level 3 alert is far less restrictive than measures implemented in many other countries, including China, France, and the United Kingdom. But for many commentators, judging from the quiet streets and empty businesses, they believe that the spontaneous behavior of the Taiwanese people has already entered the quasi-city closure stage, which will help the country to quickly overcome the COVID-19 surge.

Despite Taiwan's proximity to Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus first broke out, the island nation has been largely spared. It held a record of 252 consecutive days of zero confirmed cases this past year. With confirmed cases mostly kept to a single digit, Taiwan was considered a "model student of epidemic prevention" by outsiders. However, the myth is now destroyed. With loosening adherence to protocols, lowered quanrantine requirements for flight crews and vaccine shortfall, cluster affections in late April soon led to the spike in cases during May, resulting the anouncement of Level 3 Alert.

In terms of restriction force, Taiwan's "Level 3 Alert" is just average in comparison to these cities; but in terms of results, the average drop in data after the week of closure for driving, public transportation, and walking was greater than 30%, ranking first among the top seven cities. In other words, by looking at the data from this stage, it could be deducted that Taipei and New Taipei have entered a state of "voluntary lockdown."

A rapid COVID-19 in New Tapei — Photo: Daniel Ceng Shou-Y/ZUMA

Another noteworthy phenomenon is that the flow of people to their homes has increased significantly, while the flow to workplaces has declined, but by less than 20%, compared to the strictest lockdowns abroad, where the flow of people to workplaces has decreased more significantly, such as Los Angeles 31%, New York 26%, Paris 63%, Singapore 43%.

Since May 10, when local cases began to appear in Taiwan, Taipei has seen a gradual decline in traffic, whether by car, public transportation, or on foot. Judging from the trend of the mobility flow data, it is indeed evident that Taiwanese people are willing to be highly cooperative in the face of the "crowd control" policy put into place.

Taiwan is facing a challenge that most countries in the world have already faced.

As the epidemic has escalated, there have been calls for the government to further "harden" the measures. However, according to international studies, if we look at nine countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany, we will eventually find that the key to an effective lockdown policy is not to take harsh measures, but to "start early and gradually unblock" the cities.

This could be the reason why strong closures have failed to contain the epidemic, necessitating the repeated issuance of closures of different standards. After all, it's not just about strict closures; it's also about how well people accept and abide by the policy, and how much they can tolerate.

Taiwan is facing a challenge that most countries in the world have already faced, and has announced that the Level 3 Alert is prolonged until June 14. There have been 6,856 new cases registered between May 20 to June 2, compared to a total of under 1,000 between Jan. 2020 and March 19, 2021.

What does the future hold for Taiwan? Are the people still willing to cooperate with the government's order to stay out and move less? It is still worth watching very closely.

It's still too early to see the full effects of the current soft lockdown measures. However, experts say that if people in Taiwan can maintain "less travel and less movement," we may soon see the COVID curve flatten — and all the boasting about "self-discipline" will be vindicated.

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Taiwan
Alice Hérait

Tropical Terroir: The Man Turning Taiwan Into Wine Country

On this subtropical island, Chien-hao Chen fought typhoons and monsoons to develop his vineyards — and to produce wines admired by some of the most important oenologists.

TAICHUNG — How could anyone imagine any sort of viticulture on land that never experiences winter and is ravaged by an average of five typhoons per year? The island of Taiwan is much more famous for its tea and street food than for its vineyards. Producing wine is certainly possible, but producing very good wine is another story. And most of the bottles found in this hot country are closer to cheap plonk than great vintages.

Yet Vino Formosa, a sweet white wine, and Vino Formosa Rosso, its red equivalent — developed in this very tough environment by the eccentric Chien-hao Chen — are two notable exceptions. Their names evoke the island's former designation, Formosa. We meet the 53-year-old winemaker at the end of Oct. 2020, under a blazing sun. The winery, Shu-sheng, is located on the outskirts of Taichung, Taiwan's second largest city with 2.8 million inhabitants. Chen takes us on a tour of its five hectares of vineyards. Except for the Chinese characters that indicated the name of the estate, it feels like a summer afternoon in the Perpignan province of France.

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Japan
Yann Rousseau

Regional Immunity? Why Asia Has Avoided The Worst Of COVID-19

East Asia is home to 30% of the world's population but has recorded only 2.4% of the COVID-19 global death toll. Scientists are looking at possible immunity from past epidemics or even genetics.

TOKYO — This is one of the great mysteries of the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries in East Asia were affected by the spread of the virus several weeks before Europe and the United States and yet they were notably able to get through the health crisis and to disclose, despite several waves of infection, much lower death tolls than those in the West.

Cumulatively, the ten members of ASEAN (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia) and the developed countries of North-East Asia (China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) have recorded only 44,000 deaths linked to COVID-19 since January 2020, i.e. barely ... 2.4% of the 1.8 million fatalities worldwide. This is fewer than the 65,000 deaths recorded in France. To put this in perspective, with 2.3 billion inhabitants, East Asia is home to 30% of the entire world population.

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Hong Kong
Alain Frachon

Why Hong Kong Means So Much To Xi Jinping

Beijing imposed a national security law in Hong Kong on May 28 to counteract its secessionist tendencies. What is at stake here for the former British colony?

-Analysis-

No matter when you visited Hong Kong, you'd always find its singular atmosphere: A slice of the Chinese world mixed with British-style rule of law. In Victoria Harbor, facing the Guangdong province, you could breathe the mixed perfumes of civil liberty and Chinese engineering as if it were a culmination of the Pearl River's own spirit.

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Taiwan

In Taiwan, Where Seven Watermelons Spell Victory Over COVID-19

Taiwan's success in containing the coronavirus is certainly cause for celebration, and to really emphasize the point, farmers in one agricultural region decided this week that it's high time to break out the… watermelons?

After a string of six straight days with no new confirmed coronavirus cases, a group of farmers in Changhua, in central Taiwan, decided that to keep the streak going, they'd come together — each with a hefty watermelon in their arms — and pray, the Liberty Times reported. And it worked: Two days later, Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) confirmed a record eighth day in a row with no new reports of contagion, according to the news site Focus Taiwan.

The unusual event was clearly about lifting spirits, but by choosing to pose with watermelons, the farmers were also hoping to boost sales of the fruit after COVID-19 has caused a sharp drop in the island nation's agricultural exports. For now, domestic sales at least have gotten a boost: to celebrate Mother's Day, the New Kinpo Group, one of Taiwan's major electronics firms, along with several other companies, gave their employees each a watermelon as a present.

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Taiwan
Lisa Lane

Taiwan's Amazing Mask System: Apps, IDs And Convenience Stores

Taiwan has once again upgraded its so-called Name-Based Mask Distribution System.

If you want to see a model for efficient mass distribution of face masks, take a look at Taiwan.

The country just rolled out what it's touting as the Name-Based Mask Distribution System 3.0, a rationing system for face masks that allows the public to go to a convenience store and buy masks within seconds, while being sure supplies are well-monitored and stock is secured for the future. Not surprisingly, it operates through a universal healthcare system, NHI (National Health Insurance) administration.

  • The procedure involves inserting your National Health Insurance (NHI) card in a service machine, keying in a mobile phone number then checking-out at the cashier. (It helps that Taiwan has the world's highest density of convenience stores.)
  • For $1.73 , one can buy up to nine face masks for a two-week adult allowance and 10 for children. Foreigners with a resident certificate and a NHI card can equally use the service.
  • Back on Feb. 6, with the view of preventing a COVID-19 outbreak similar to China's, Taiwan announced a name-based rationing system for face masks. In the beginning they were to be purchased from the government's contracted pharmacies, with a limit of only two masks weekly due to the mask shortage at that time.

A couple wearing surgical masks in Taipei — Photo: Walid Berrazeg/SOPA Images/ZUMA

  • To avoid long lines outside pharmacies and also to avoid people lining up for nothing, Audrey Tang, Taiwan's Digital Minister, came up with a real-time map of local mask inventory accessible by smartphone.
  • This first effort was then updated to distribution system 2.0 where the public could order masks via the Name-Based Mask Distribution System at either the eMask website or the NHI App from a mobile phone.
  • The 3.0 system is an extension of the two previous measures. It's mainly designed for elderly people who do not use the Internet, and is also designed to relieve the workload of pharmacies.
  • To help in preventing an epidemic, back in mid-February several dozen Taiwanese machine tool manufacturers took the initiative to voluntarily set up a face mask production line to respond to the mask shortage.
  • As of today, Taiwan "s daily production of 16 million medical masks will reach 20 million by the end of this month, making it second largest country for mask production after China. This has enabled the island nation to donate millions of masks to foreign countries hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
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