Erenlai - Lise Darbas
Lise Darbas

Lise Darbas

I am in Taipei since 2007. I am a student in International Relations at National Taiwan University. 
I like to study Political Sciences and Chinese.

Wednesday, 04 August 2010 17:27

A glimpse into Matsu’s island

Have you ever heard of Matsu?

Most of the people I have met in Taiwan or abroad who never been to Matsu refer to it as a military island or think of the famous Chinese Goddess of the Sea: “Mazu” (馬祖). Unfortunately not many people know about this beautiful and quiet island (actually, Matsu is an archipelago of 19 small islands, divided into four townships*), which belongs to Lienchiang County (連江縣) of the Republic of China (ROC). Matsu is situated in the Taiwan Strait, only 10 miles (16 km) away from China, close to Fujian province, but 120 miles (193 km) away from Taiwan. I was astonished to see at Nangan harbor how very close China is to Matsu, just 40 minutes by boat.

My first trip to Matsu was during the Chinese New Year and I will never forget it. Indeed, as you might say, I did not choose the right time to go to this island. The weather was bad and all the residents of Matsu were going back home to Matsu to spend New Year with their families. My flight was delayed and I had to wait until the next day before to take another plane.... However, there were no normal passenger planes and I had to take a military transport airplane. Everyone was in the baggage hold, sitting all together in two long rows, not so comfortable but quite worth it simply for the experience. Fortunately, the plane trip was short, only 45 minutes, and I did not have to jump by parachute for the landing. This reinforced my strong impression that Matsu is well served by its nickname of Military Island! However, I discovered during my stay on this island that Matsu is much more than just a military island.

Matsu was the furthest military outpost of Taiwan’s Chinese Nationalists when the Communists established their power in the mainland in 1949. Since 1992, when martial law on the island was lifted, the number of soldiers stationed on Matsu has significantly decreased, as has as the fishing industry, which has had an adverse effect on Matsu’s economy. Consequently, with the support of the Taiwanese government, Matsu decided to develop a cultural economy. For example, many military facilities and historic monuments can now be visited, such as the secret military tunnels. They were built during the 1950s to hold ships that could launch surprise attacks on the mainland. It is quite amazing that the existence of these tunnels was unknown even by the residents of Matsu until 1992. Capitalizing on the fame of its Goddess namesake, the tallest statue of Mazu in the world is in Nangan Township.

lise_darbas_matsu2In addition, I was quite impressed by Matsu’s unique stone houses, built in the style of Eastern Min architecture. Indeed, the native people of Matsu were originally immigrants from Eastern Fujian or Eastern Min, so they do not speak Taiwanese but the Fuzhou dialect (福州話, or閩北話). One of the most well-known traditional sites, the village of Qinbi in Beigan (dating from the Ming and Qing Dynasties), bears a strong resemblance to Mediterranean architecture. Most of these houses are nowadays not inhabited during winter vacations. They have been restored and converted into art galleries, coffee shops and bed and breakfast guesthouses to cater for tourists. Walking between these houses made me felt like if I was in a small ghost town. There was strong wind coming from the sea, and I noticed the peculiarity of the roof tiles of the stone houses, which were all weighed down with rocks to defend against the wind. Winter vacation is not the ideal time to fully enjoy Matsu, rather the best time to go to this island is from June to November. During this period the weather is much more favorable for hiking and enjoying a coffee on the terrace of stone houses next to the seaside.

Matsu is now trying its best to lure tourist and attract more interests. Before going to Matsu, I heard of Josh Wenger, an American doctoral student at National Taiwan University who won a competition to be mayor of Matsu for a day. In October 2009, inspired by the famous publicity of “The best job in the world” on Hamilton Island (part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef), Matsu had the brilliant idea to create an online quiz of 10 questions on Matsu’s geographical and historical facts to promote itself. The winner had the amazing opportunity to become the mayor of Matsu for one day, with an award of NT$10,000, and a stay of 3 days and 2 nights in free accommodation.

lise_darbas_Josh_Matsu_5I interviewed Josh who was deeply impressed by Matsu, which he describes as an interesting island with a rich cultural heritage and beautiful natural sites, friendly people and exceptionally tasty food, which was some of the best he has ever tasted in Taiwan. The food he enjoyed the most was fresh seafood, such as seafood noodles, the Buddha hands (炒佛手), and fried clams (炒花蛤). I also found Matsu’s food very delicious, for example, I enjoyed eating Matsu’s “Red rice yeast chicken” (紅糟雞) in the small cozy coffee shop “Lady Coffee” (夫人咖啡) next to the coast in Nangan Township.

Josh’s favorite places were in Beigan island, such as “Biyuan Park” (碧園, which means “green garden”) a small beautiful park with plaques containing the names of soldiers who lost their lives serving in the military; the mountain “Bishan” (北竿大沃山)is the highest peak of the Matsu islandwith an incredible view of Beigan island, and the “88 tunnel” (八八坑道), which originally took its name to commemorate Chiang Kai-shek’s 88th birthday. Since 1992, this tunnel is no longer a military facility, but is instead used by the people of Matsu to keep their best old rice liquor (老酒) in ceramic pots.

Following on from my short stay in Matsu, and after having interviewed Josh, I became even more interested by this small island. Although Matsu is not as well known as the main island of Taiwan, it is undoubtedly one of the most interesting historical and natural sites I have visited here. I believe that Matsu is an indispensable destination for understanding cross-Strait relations. Moreover, Matsu’s cultural assets such as the stone houses are some of the most important attractions of the island, and have given Matsu a charm and special atmosphere that seems to be from another time. What was once a frontier of the Cold War is now ideal tourist spot for a relaxing couple of days.

(Photos courtesy of J. Wenger and L. Darbas)


“Matsu National Scenic Area,”

“Matsu’s best-kept cultural heritage: Eastern Min architecture at Qinbi village,”

Watch Josh Wenger’s report about his experience being the mayor of Matsu:「 一日縣長」溫賈舒:馬祖的美麗景點,絕對要去看


*Nangan (南竿鄉), Beigan (北竿鄉), Juguang (莒光鄉), Dongyin (東引鄉)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010 00:00

France’s policy towards the lifting of the EU arms embargo on China (2003-2010)

The EU arms embargo on China and France’s policy

After the tragic events in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4 1989, the European Union member states convened on June 27 in Madrid to announce several diplomatic and economic sanctions, such as an embargo on trade in arms with China. France was one of the first nations to show its disapproval of China’s actions, but was also one of the first European countries to restore diplomatic ties with China at the beginning of the 1990s. During this period sanctions to isolate China were gradually abandoned. However, the arms embargo has remained in force. At the start of the 21st century, as China’s economic power grows rapidly, the embargo has become a major point of concern and contention among Western countries. European countries have a great economic interest in China’s growing market, especially in supplying Beijing’s rapid military modernization. The EU arms embargo is in fact a hindrance to commercial exchanges between Europe and China, and to the improvement of their diplomatic relations.

France has searched to improve its relations with China for economic and political interests. Sino-French relations were particularly important during Chirac’s two terms in office, whereas during Sarkozy’s current term in office relations with China have been through both times of trouble and of reconciliation. Chirac and Sarkozy follow the “Gaullism tradition” (a French political movement based on Charles de Gaulle’s thought and action during World War II), and both support lifting the arms embargo on China. They believe that the embargo is not legally binding, and since the European Union Code of Conduct on Arms Exports was adopted in June 1998, it should only be considered as a “symbol”. However, the details of Chirac and Sarkozy's policies toward this issue vary slightly.

Chirac’s foreign policy (2003-2007)

The French Government under Jacques Chirac sought to balance the American hegemonic power and to restore France’s status in Europe and the world by establishing closer relations with China and European countries, such as Germany.

Because of Chirac’s keen interest in China, Sino-French relations were at their highest status from 1995 to 2007. Chirac’s administration strongly supported lifting the arms embargo. According to him, the embargo on China is an “anachronism”. In 2003, Chirac used his right of veto in the United Nations against the invasion of Iraq when France was considered the leading nation to rise against the American power. However, the United States did not comply with the decision of the international community and pursued its goal to attack Iraq with British support. Consequently, as Chirac was against the Bush administration’s policy of “unilateralism and preemptive war”, he became even more assertive to achieving his goal of forming a multipolar world with the support of China.

France and Germany were the two most important proponents of lifting the arms embargo and had a significant role in influencing the decisions of other European countries. However, despite France’s efforts to influence its European counterparts, mainly because of American pressure and the implementation of the “Anti-Secession Law” by China in March 2005 (to avoid any declaration of independence in Taiwan), the intention of other European countries to lift the arms embargo was abandoned in June 2005.

Sarkozy’s foreign policy (2007-2010)

In May 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president of France and France’s foreign policy toward China and the United States began to gradually shift. Indeed, at the end of 2007, American’s relative power was weakened by the war in Iraq and the world financial crisis. Moreover, China’s rapid economic and military growth was shifting the balance of power both in East Asia and throughout the world. In order to adapt to this new balance of power, Sarkozy decided to improve transatlantic relations in order to pursue France’s economic interests as Paris coped with the economic crisis (such as accelerating France’s full-reintegration into NATO’s military command structure in 2009). Furthermore, like Chirac, Sarkozy emphasizes a multilateral framework to deal with international issues, which is closer to the view of the present American president, Barack Obama.

In contrast to Paris’s strong stance in 2004 in favor of lifting the embargo, Sarkozy has been less active on this issue with China than his predecessor. He supports the EU position on the arms embargo, which encourages improvements of China’s human rights policy and environmental issues as a condition for lifting the embargo. In fact, Sarkozy is more attracted and fascinated by the United States. He is not as interested and knowledgeable on China as Chirac was.

Nowadays the embargo still creates diplomatic discord between the European countries and Washington. In January 2010 the issue was raised again by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as soon as he assumed the EU’s rotating presidency. However, so far Spain’s request has not altered the EU’s position. According to the European Union, China’s human rights performance is still too weak.

Conclusion: Comparison between Sarkozy and Chirac

The political decisions taken by Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy to emphasize France’s position in the world are purely driven by political and economic considerations for the sake of promoting French national interests. The French presidents are both in favor of a “multipolar world”. They have promoted closer relations with great powers such as China, the US and Germany.

Sarkozy and Chirac have different characters and interests in the world which has hugely influenced their objectives and decisions in France’s foreign policy. Chirac was closer to China, for example, he had promoted numerous cultural exchanges (such as the “cross-years” from 2003 to 2005), whereas Sarkozy is currently closer to the United States and the European Union. Consequently, their support for lifting the arms embargo differs. In following their convictions, they have both tried to adapt to the situations of the world and the power shift, which gradually occurred since the start of the 21st century: from a strong US unilateralism to China’s impressive growing economic power.

Painting by B.V.


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