Taiwan conflict - Facing the threat from China | DW Documentary
It’s midnight and we’re in south Taiwan, headed toward an area where military exercises are scheduled to take place. It’s closed. It’s September 13th, 2021. The 37th annual military drill will start at dawn. These high school students from the capital Taipei are here to watch the show.
I used to come here this year and last year. What are you going to do with the pictures? Just upload to Instagram, and then everyone knows Taiwan’s defense power. Why is it important to show defense power? We want the world to know we are a country. Not subject to the People’s Republic of China. One of Taiwan’s leading broadcasters TVBS has the best spot right now. We accompany TingTing Liu, the broadcaster’s star presenter.
We are going to go to a better vantage point. Are you the only one who have these around here? There are a couple of other media outlets who also rent this kind of platform. So you can see over there. Less than 100 meters away, a war game is already underway. The airports have just been destroyed by the Chinese army. Taiwan needs to use the highway to start and land its fighter jets. We come across a surprising scene.
The soldiers have swapped their weapons for brooms and dustpans. Our photographer explains what’s going on. They’re clearing obstacles from the road to make sure the aircraft can start and land safely. To prevent accidents, the highway has to be as clean and smooth as a runway. Now the military exercises can begin.
Welcome to the 37th major military exercise. Three aircraft models are taking part today: the F-16, our very own Mirage 2000, and of course the E-2K radar-equipped aircraft. Taiwan’s largest broadcasters are reporting live. The military also supplies stills and video material. A special guest is here to see the fighter jets, early warning aircraft and the pilots — the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. She’s the first woman to lead the country.
As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, she’s here in uniform. These exercises lasted five days and have taken place since 1984. The military films the drills — like this one showing the response to a Chinese attack. It’s a deliberate demonstration of military might that’s especially directed at Taiwan’s neighbor and rival, the People’s Republic of China. But few people realize where Taiwan’s true power lies. Though Taiwan’s population is only around 23 million, the global leading semiconductor manufacturer is based here.
TSMC is one of the most influential companies in the world. From the automotive industry to computers, smartphones and gaming consoles, many sectors depend on components made in Taiwan. Which has helped the island territory prosper. With strong exports and one of Asia’s most important seaports, Taiwan’s economy grew some 6 percent in 2021 — one of the best growth rates in the world. Despite its economic clout, Taiwan finds itself in an unusual situation — only a handful of nations recognize it as an independent country.
Taiwan has its own flag, national anthem, currency, and democratically elected president and government, but is not officially recognized by any major power. And it’s all down to the country’s complicated relationship with China. Mao Zhedong’s Communist Party has never forgotten that its greatest opponent Chiang Kai-shek, the previous leader of China, retreated to Taiwan in 1949, de facto creating a new country. The People’s Republic of China has never recognized Taiwan and regards it one of its own provinces. Chinese President Xi Jingping continues to insist that Taiwan must be reunified with China. We do not rule out the possible use of force.
Most Taiwanese agree they should keep a low profile rather than risk provoking China. Even if it costs Taiwan their independence, they see that as the best way to preserve peace and economic freedom. Everyone knows Taiwan’s an independent country. We don’t need to shout it from the rooftops. But an increasing number of Taiwanese are beginning to advocate for independence, including many young people. Even though that risks aggression from China.
If a conflict erupts, my friends and I are prepared to go to war. Freedom of the press, marriage equality, freedom of speech and the right to protest, and digital democracy spearheaded by a popular transgender cabinet minister. In the capital Taipei, nearly everyone rejects the Chinese dictatorship and reunification. A small group though continues to insist that Taiwan belongs to China. In Taiwanese politics, two very different worlds collide. There are metal singers who go into politics ...
and former gangsters who spark violence between the two camps. How do people in Taiwan deal with this situation — of living in a country that officially does not exist? We want to know more about the last bastion of political resistance to communist-party China. Most Taiwanese share the same goal — for things to remain as they are.
Wayne also doesn’t want to provoke China, but opposes reunification. He’s on the conservative side, has two children and lives in an upscale Taipei neighborhood. He values the stability and safety of taiwan and wants to keep it that way. We don’t have shootings all the time. We don’t have, I hate to say it, you know, but we don’t have jihadists trying to blow themselves up. We have freedom of speech. We have a very democratic society.
Our national health care. I’ll tell you a secret, a lot of my friends who live in America would fly to Taiwan to do their health check. It’s overall a good place to live. And I welcome French people to come to Taiwan. Seriously, it's a great country! Taiwan has been good to Wayne, and his family is part of the country’s top one-percent.
He also does business with China. Hey, don’t get yourself on my seat, all right. The businessman runs six English language schools, including one in China. As he heads off in his luxury electric car, he has a telephone meeting with the Chinese school’s director. I wanted to ask how the students are doing right now. They’re doing well, but there are a few new students who are struggling.
I want them to get tutoring, but we don’t have enough teachers. The school in China accounts for 10 percent of Wayne’s business. So it comes as little surprise that the businessman wants to avoid stepping on China’s toes. That’s true for many here — more than 40 percent of Taiwan’s exports go to China. Today Wayne is bringing his daughter to one of the six schools he runs.
It’s about 4:30 in the afternoon. They come to our school after their Chinese school to get a US curriculum. If we were to calculate our students’ class time throughout the day plus our program it would be longer than an adult’s working schedule. So Taiwanese kids work very hard. Most Taiwanese parents actually aim for US. Only about 5 percent of families here can afford to send their children to schools like this.
Wayne is now headed to his mother’s place. He checks in on her every day. Lisa runs the show here. She founded the six schools 30 years ago. Her son now handles the day to day management, but she’s still the one in charge. And when it comes to finances, she’s all business. Tuition fees are due.
You mean for next school year, February to June? That’s right. Today Lisa has an appointment with two bankers. With an annual turnover of 4 million dollars a year, she’s looking for investment advice. My son told me he bought stock in Apple. He’s happy because the return is 14 percent. Yes, their value keeps rising.
Apple’s good, but I want to invest in NIU in China. NIU has been doing quite well since it went public. Business is good for Lisa and Wayne, and they don’t want politics to interfere with things. People have grown used to living in peace and happiness, and that’s how it should be. People can buy what they want, eat what they want. Things are going well. But if Taiwan were to become independent or decided to reject the status quo, our society would become divided, and hate would grow among Taiwanese.
Lisa is satisfied with the meeting — she’s always felt comfortable calling the shots. People in Taiwan have grown used to their way of life and freedoms. And they want to continue doing business with China.
In other words, Taiwan wants to benefit from China’s economic might, without the drawbacks of dictatorship. That’s why I’m pro status quo. Because when it comes right down to it, I do not want to risk my business. I do not want to risk my family. Some people ask me, Oh, Taiwan is not recognized. So what? I don’t care because the Taiwanese passport that I use — we can travel everywhere. You know, let’s be honest.
You compare the Taiwanese passport with the People’s Republic of China passport, the Taiwanese passport can go more places than a China passport. How long will Taiwan be able to walk this tightrope, and placate its powerful neighbor and rival? Especially given that some Taiwanese are chafing at the status quo. Like Roy, who’s 25 and advocates for Taiwanese independence.
People in my neighborhood don’t like me. They don’t like people who demand Taiwanese independence and who resist the status quo. Roy lives in a conservative district in a suburb of Taipei, which looks down on people like him. He’s on his way to his apartment, where his girlfriend is waiting for him.
Hello love, I’m home. They live in a three-room apartment, which belongs to Roy’s grandmother. Roy met Wang Wei four years ago at a political gathering. She has a Taiwanese father and a Chinese mother — something that occasionally bothers her. I speak with an accent and people often ask me: are you Chinese? I don’t like that because I regard myself as Taiwanese.
Wang Wei’s mother is worried that her partner is Taiwanese. Once my mother asked me: Who will you vote for? I told her I would vote for Tsai Ing-wen, who’s now president. She asked me why. I told her: because Tsai Ing-wen cares about Taiwan. Then she said: You’re a traitor if you vote for Tsai Ing-wen. Roy and Weng Wei are both convinced that Taiwan should become independent.
We may have the same culture and the same language, but our way of life is different. We’re a free and democratic country. They’re an authoritarian country. That’s why we need to oppose China and gain independence. China is angry.
Even if nothing changes, China will still be angry. If we let them have their way, we’ll end up like Hong Kong. Eventually, we’d be under the control of the Communist Party of China.
Roy is even prepared to stand up to China himself, if need be. In an attack, most Taiwanese would run away, that would be easiest. But I believe we should take up weapons and defend our families, our homeland and our way of life. We need to stand up to China, not run away. But is Roy underestimating the threat to Taiwan? This is China’s military. Propaganda images designed to impress and intimidate Taiwan. China’s army is much more powerful than Taiwan’s.
Every day, Chinese fighter planes like these nuclear-capable H6 bombers are sent over Taiwanese airspace. In 2021, there were more than 600 such incursions. But Taiwan’s government refuses to be intimidated. The country’s leaders say they are ready to go to war, if need be. Foreign Minister Joseph Wu is standing firm. We have been preparing, is that we have the ability to defend ourselves.
Even if it is going to happen tomorrow. So we are trying to make ourselves ready for a possible conflict with China. And I want to say again: we have the determination to defend ourselves. This is our territory. This is our sovereignty, and this our way of life, and we want to protect it.
The minister sounds confident, but others say that Taiwan is not ready to defend itself. This retired military officer is carrying 41 different awards on his shoulder, received during his 38 years in Taiwan’s air force. Today the former Deputy Defense Minister wants to draw attention to the Mirage 2000 fighter, which Taiwan bought from France 30 years ago. The former officer is convinced the Mirage fighter is no longer a match for China’s fleet. But only a handful of broadcasters show any interest. The Mirage is a fourth-generation fighter jet.
China is already working on the fifth generation. We have no choice but to up our game. Taiwan’s military knows it needs to prepare for a Chinese offensive. Particularly because the younger generation is increasingly against the status quo, which risks a backlash from Beijing.
The Sunflower Movement began on March 18th, 2014, when a group of students and other activists stormed the national legislature. They wanted to prevent a sweeping trade agreement with China, which would have strengthened Chinese influence. At the time, the ruling China-friendly Kuomintang party planned to wave the agreement through. What followed were 23 days of protests, where the students vehemently showed their determination. When we leave this parliament, we will have to live up to our responsibility.
It won’t be easy, but we have to preserve the spirit of the movement. The Sunflower Movement helped pave the way for the election of President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party in 2016. It was a bitter defeat for the old-guard Kuomintang, which had dominated Taiwanese politics since the beginning in 1949. We pay a visit to one of the Sunflower Movement activists in the parliament building.
Audrey Tang has now twice been appointed Taiwan’s "digital minister” by the president. She’s the world’s first openly transgender national minister, and as a former hacker she’s also an advocate for radical transparency. Is this an interview? If this is an interview, then I need to turn on my camera.
Everything the minister says to the press is made available to the people of Taiwan. Our entire interview will be posted to her YouTube channel. All her government statements are posted there, too. Basically I just speak my mind. So that’s no extra training required, I guess.
But of course the actual a lot of the actual work is, of course, a group effort. I think my main contribution as an individual is to insist that the materials forming the message and also the medium is delivered as creative commons. Today Tang wants to encourage Taiwanese citizens to purchase government-issued spending vouchers.
The goal is to stimulate the local economy in the wake of the pandemic. Unlike the more formal Chinese style of official communication, Audrey Tang isn’t afraid to let her personality show. Virtual vouchers, come and get them! The humorous clips don’t take much time to make. Hurry! Young Taiwanese love it.
Colorful, whimsical — a very effective public message. Minister Audrey Tang is very creative. She always has new ideas that are ahead of her time, especially when it comes to technology. The digital minister has contributed to another unique instrument, which emerged from the Gov-Zero community. Called vTaiwan (for virtual Taiwan) it’s an online platform that allows for civic debate on legislative topics. Fostering this digital democracy is one side of Audrey Tang’s work.
But there’s another more disquieting side. In late 2021, Taiwanese officials said the government faced up to 5 million cyberattacks or probes per day. In May 2020, hackers targeted a state-run energy company, causing payment issues and chaos at gas stations across the country.
To help protect against such attacks, the minister employs "white hat“ hackers to test government projects and software programs. Make sure that we also understand the so-called Red Team thinking and how their penetration testers think about this business. So we can defend ourselves better and also proactively hunt any threats. The CEO of TeamT5, a Taiwan-based cybersecurity company, is familiar with many cyberespionage groups.
They were even able to identify the one responsible for the energy company attack. Called APT41, they are a notorious group of China-backed hackers also wanted by the FBI. They have very high skill. They are really good at cyberattack. And according to our research, we know they did compromises lots of very large enterprises and some very important, critical infrastructures. And some technology companies. APT41 are hackers for hire. They work for organized crime as well as state entities such as China.
The day of the attack is very close to the Taiwan presidential inauguration ceremony. So many people guess it might be related. They want to cause some impact. Because not only this company, it happened to two major oil product providers in Taiwan. Taiwan fears that critical infrastructure like the electricity and power supply could also be hacked, which would bring the entire country to a standstill.
Some of these hackers work out of Base 311, in the Chinese city of Fuzhou. Base 311 is where the Chinese military’s cyberwarfare operations are headquartered, just off the coast from a taiwanese archipelago. Much like with the Kinmen Islands to the south, which is only a half-hour boatride from the mainland. In Kinmen county, people worry more about a Chinese attack than anywhere else in Taiwan. That fear is exemplified by these defensive stakes, which recall the battles between Mao’s Communists and Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists in 1949. Robin is from Taiwan and works as a tour guide on Kinmen.
So when they got here, about three days and three nights attacking with just Kinmen, with AOC troops. So they sent 900 boats at the same time, 2 o’clock, attacking for three days. In Taipei, the Taiwanese government faces another challenger — the Kuomintang. It’s the main opposition party and the oldest in Taiwan. The conservative,
one-china party tries to thwart the new government at every turn. Freddy Lim is a newer member of the legislature, who won his district in the January 2016 election that saw Tsai Ing-wen win the presidency. So where are we here, Freddy? We are at a market built in Japanese colonial era, almost hundred years. The small market is located in a historic Taipei district, in the heart of Freddy Lim’s constituency. This is one of the most famous dumpling shop in this area.
Surrounded by voters, Freddy Lim looks in his element. Perhaps because he’s not only a politician. He also possesses a special talent... -Freddy! Freddy very famous. -Why famous, why?
- He sings, sing a song! - More famous as a singer or a politician? - Both! He’s the frontman for Taiwan’s most famous heavy-metal band. Tonight he’s performing before an audience of 20,000. He also takes the opportunity to send his message to his fans. A pro-independence message, much to the displeasure of the conservative Kuomintang.
Our country is valuable, even though it’s small. No dictatorship should be allowed to tell singers, writers and artists what they can sing, write or perform, just to enforce their terrible policies. Since Freddy Lim won his election, the Kuomintang is doing everything in its power to retake his district.
In parliament, Lim has even been by physically seized by political opponents. To keep Lim from voting, the opposition — all wearing blue — grabbed him and held him in place. Shocking images, but they’re the order of the day in Taiwan.
I think they can’t say their idea about being closing with China, so how they can position themselves, they find it so difficult. So they, they ... it might be easier for them to go extreme and to get attention from the people. For us, I don’t think it makes sense, but they just do that. The Kuomintang is not the only party that poses a threat to Taiwan’s democracy. There’s also the China Unification Promotion Party or the CUPP, an extremist pro-China party.
Though it’s just a fringe party, it knows how to capture public attention. The lettering on their vests delivers a clear message — “We support reunification with China.” Today Mr Chang and his comrades are demonstrating for the 122nd time in front of Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control. Their demand always the same — Taiwan should purchase Chinese-made Covid vaccines. China is prepared to make safe and effective vaccines available to us quickly. We have to protect people’s lives here in Taiwan.
We can’t allow the government to block Chinese vaccines. An hour into the protest, the police step in. I am informing you that (today, September 20,) you must leave the premises, otherwise we will remove you by force. The CUPP activists comply and leave the area. We take the opportunity to follow Chang Fu-tang to his headquarters, just a few kilometers outside Taipei.
As we entered the premises, we were struck with the impression that these could possibly be mainland chinese military forces on taiwanese soil, which could be a serious danger to democracy here. We first encounter a statue of the Chinese Communist leader Deng Xiaoping. In the 1950s, Deng was a close comrade of Mao Zedong. 40 years later, he was responsible for the Tiananmen Square massacre. In the next room, CUPP propaganda videos are being filmed.
The demonstration from earlier that day will also go online soon. A man in blue tracksuit is keeping a careful eye on things. He has an air of authority that piques our curiosity, especially since he’s sticking close to the party’s chairman. This is the office of the CUPP president. I’ll introduce you to his son. When his father Chang An-lo, the president of the CUPP, isn’t here, his son Chang Wei takes over the helm.
But the shadow of his father, who is in China right now, is always present. This wood sculpture was given to my father when he returned to Taiwan. (It’s a souvenir.) A wolf, because my father’s nickname is “White Wolf.“ "White Wolf“ may have a romantic sound to it, but the name comes from the time when Chang Wei’s father was a leader of the Bamboo Union, the largest of Taiwan’s triads. Chang An-lo spent 10 years in a US prison on drug charges. More recently though he’s been investigated for claims that the CUPP has been accepting funding from China.
Chang Wei tries to convince us that he’s different from his father, since he was raised in Argentina by his mother. He conducts the rest of the interview with us in Spanish. I was 21 when I met him the first time. He’d spent 10 years in prison in the US. I only knew my father from news reports.
I knew he was my father, but I’d never met him. I’m not in a gang. My father has forbidden it. We meet another former member of the Bamboo Union. He succeeded in leaving the crime syndicate and has become a loyal supporter of independence. These days, he’s glad for the freedom he enjoys. He runs six fitness centers. Holger Chen may still look like a gangster, but his Bamboo Union days are over.
Now he’s an entrepreneur and an internet celebrity with more than a million followers. I work out three to four times a week, bench pressing. Usually 160 or 170 kilos, sometimes even 180.
This is "San“, the Buddha, the good side. This is "Ermu“, the bad side. This signifies that our world doesn’t just have one side, but two. If you encounter a bad person, you have to use your bad side to beat him.
In 2020, Holger Chen paid dearly for his new-found political support for an independent Taiwan. The incident made headlines far and wide. Now for news of the day. Internet star Holger Chen was shot in the arm and leg three times early this morning.
As he left his one of his fitness studios in the middle of the night, Holger Chen and two employees walked to his car. Suddenly a gunman appeared, shot him at close range, and fled. Every day, I still have pain in my leg. I had a total of 7 entry (and exit) wounds. I was in critical condition, very critical.
I still have bullet fragments in my leg and I worry that I’ll have pain for the rest of my life. The reason for the attack was clear. In 2019, Holger Chen helped organize mass demonstrations against powerful pro-China media outlets. He’s been speaking out for Taiwanese independence since leaving the Bamboo Union. All Taiwanese should rise up against the Red media here and against the Chinese Communist Party.
The protests were mainly directed at one man: Tsai Eng-meng, the billionaire owner of the China Times media group. Holger Chen had accused him of working for Beijing and seeking to destablize Taiwan by spreading propaganda on his media outlets — including the CTI cable news station. He’s an enemy of Taiwan. We know that people like him are working for the enemy and getting money from the Chinese. In the wake of the 2019 protests, the media magnate was asked to appear before the Taiwanese National Communications Commission, which decided not to renew CTI’s license. CTI News will stop broadcasting after nearly three decades.
Authorities have accused the owner Tsai Eng-meng of interfering with the broadcaster’s editorial independence. Holger Chen is not the only one to be threatened by pro-China extremists. Taiwan is also home to political exiles who fled Chinese- controlled Hong Kong.
One of them is Lam Wing-Kee. He’s a bookseller who specializes in books that are critical of Beijing. As a result, he spent 8 months in a Chinese jail. The Chinese police have their sights set on him again, because he refuses to divulge the names of his customers.
I used to send 5 kilos of books per day to China, books I’d sold. I did that for almost two years. For two reasons. First to earn money. And second, to influence people. I believed that China can only be transformed from within. People have the right to read books. I’m opposed to any and all bans.
Taiwan does not have an extradition treaty with China. That’s why Lam Wing-kee was able to open a new bookshop in 2020 with Tsai Ing-wen’s blessing. The Taiwanese president even left behind a simple handwritten note that said “A free Taiwan supports the freedom of Hong Kong.” The post-it note is still there.
Words like these are a provocation for China — a country where the word "freedom“ — here framed on the wall — has little place in a bookshop. A provocation that would be soon answered. Red blotches on the walls, the floor and the table. On April 21, 2020, Lam Wing-Kee was splashed with red paint while eating at a café. His attacker, who was captured on a security camera, was determined to intimidate the anti-China activist into submission. They arrested the people who threw paint on me. And now they’re in jail.
I’m glad, because Taiwan is a democratic country. To avoid provoking China, Taiwan was long reluctant to take in anyone fleeing Hong Kong. But in 2020, Taiwan gave refuge to 11,000 Hongkongers who wanted to escape China’s brutal suppression of dissent.
It had become clear that for President Xi Jingping, the promise of “one country, two systems” meant something very different than what Hong Kong had hoped. And many here fear that Taiwan could suffer the same fate. Do you believe in one country, two systems? And will Taiwan be the next Hong Kong? Those are empty words. Do you understand what I mean by that?
Something that doesn’t exist? Yes, a meaningless saying. China would like to re-conquer Taiwan — territory that it considers its own. Today Taiwan stands at a crossroads. Will the de facto independence of their country become official? Or will Beijing do everything in its power to assume control of Taiwan?