Inspired by Ukraine’s ability to fight back against Russia forces, Taiwanese civilians are signing up for combat readiness exercises. Dozens of private companies are offering classes on urban warfare and military first-aid as the island readies itself for potential conflict with China. For Carl Kuo, China’s intention to take Taiwan by military force looks and feels more real with each passing day. “Turn on the news and almost every day you hear how tensions between China and Taiwan are escalating,” Kuo, a Taiwanese business owner, said. The 24-year-old Taipei native runs a small grocery shop in a popular market area of the city. He says Beijing’s military drills simulating a total blockade of Taiwan have his family thinking about how to prepare for war. “We’ve discussed taking basic weapons training, getting more money out of the bank, storing some food supplies and planning a possible escape route,” Kuo said.
Many here worry that if war comes, this thriving democracy in a strategic corner of southeast Asia will be extinguished. “We don’t want to lose our way of life,” one Taipei resident worried. “Taiwan is a very friendly island and people are good to each other. It’s a democratic society where the leader is elected, not by military force.” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year sent a chill across this island nation of 23 million people with some drawing comparisons between Vladimir Putin’s obsession with taking over his neighbour and Xi Jinping’s determination to “annex” Taiwan. A popular saying among people here is “Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow.” “Five generations of the Communist party leaders had always put unification as one of their priorities. They were incapable of delivering that, but Xi Jinping is a different person,” Dr. Alexander Huang of Tamkang University said.
That’s why many Taiwanese point to Ukraine’s continued resistance against a much bigger invading army. “The unity displayed by all Ukrainians has been inspiring to us and it should also serve as a warning to China that they should think twice about attacking us,” another resident of Taipei said. Polls show an overwhelming majority of people here, over 70%, willing to defend Taiwan against any Chinese invasion. Taiwan has been paying very close attention ever since Russia began its military operations against Ukraine last year on February 24. As this tiny island nation attempts to make its own preparations for a possible invasion by their huge neighbour China, the one thing they are focusing on, just like they did in Ukraine in the opening days of the war, is the idea of creating a Taiwanese civilian defence force. That idea led to an explosion of private companies here offering defence classes to civilians.
“The key to the international community’s intervention in the possible conflict in the Taiwan Strait is Taiwan’s determination to defend itself,” insisted Lin Ping-yu, a Taipei resident taking firearms classes. “The war in Ukraine by Russia has confirmed such a theory; only when the people have shown their strong determination to defend themselves, and act on it, can they convince the international community to help them.” Record numbers are taking classes on how to provide first-aid. “At each session, we would ask trainees why they would attend first aid classes,” said Jack Chang with the Taiwan Society of Paramedicine. “Many would mention concerns about the war in Ukraine. So, they start to ask themselves ‘I am a civilian, what can I do to help? What can I do for myself, for my family, or what can I do for others?'”
Others are learning urban guerilla warfare tactics to protect their neighbourhoods. “Although I was enlisted for two years, I feel that what I have learnt is insufficient to meet modern wars,” said Paul Lai, from southern Taiwan. “So, I found a place to train to reinforce my knowledge. If one day, something happens, I could probably be able to return home safe.” Taiwan has only about 170,000 active soldiers compared to China’s nearly 2 million-strong army – the largest in the world. The island nation, however, has a larger, well-trained military reserve force than China – numbering about 1.5 million – in case Beijing decides to attack. Still, Taiwanese businessman Robert Tsao says that’s not enough. The tech billionaire is pouring millions of his personal wealth into training and equipping some three million “civilian warriors” in the next three years to defend their island home.
Admiral Lee Hsi-ming, former head of Taiwan’s armed forces, said his nation needs an immediate move toward a resilient and united society like Ukraine to face a menacing and dangerous neighbour. “If you can really develop this kind of a willingness, develop this kind of capabilities, then the enemy, China, will consider that even if they can destroy our navy and air force, successfully land on our territory, they still need to fight against our regular forces and our large kind of civilian defence forces,” Adm. Lee said. Last week, China and Taiwan held dueling military drills as tensions continue to rise. As China deployed several dozen ships and planes to simulate sealing off the island, Taiwan’s army held exercises with tanks, armoured vehicles, and Humvees on the southern part of the island. This all comes as Beijing claims it is ready to fight foreign interference in the region as well as any Taiwanese attempt to gain independence.
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