OROn a quiet work morning last week, air raid sirens sounded across Taiwan. The eerie horn would be the first warning to the island’s 23.5 million inhabitants of an incoming attack from its neighbor across the Straits, the People’s Republic of China.
On the streets of the capital, Taipei, people went about their day, just as they did when an earthquake drill on Friday told them to “stop, throw, and hide” in mass text message alerts, and just like they do when China sends dozens of air force planes screaming toward Taiwan.
The world is becoming increasingly familiar with Beijing’s claim to Taiwan as a separatist province and its commitment to “unify” one day, by force if necessary. The people of Taiwan have lived with the threat day after day, but as the danger increases, experts warn that the public is not prepared.
Analysts say China is closer to being able to invade Taiwan than it has been in decades, but has yet to do so. The potential nature and timing of any conflict is hotly debated, as is the involvement of other countries in support of Taiwan. But after decades of Chinese military modernization and a significant spike in aggressive or intimidating acts in the past 18 months, there is growing concern about Taiwan’s ability to defend itself.
“We have about 160,000 people in uniform facing an army that now claims to be 2 million strong,” says Enoch Wu, a former banker and soldier in the Taiwanese special forces, and founder of the Forward Alliance, which advocates for increased awareness. defense and national problems. security.
“They have an important role in the mission, but behind that we need a lot of response personnel who can really make sure that our defenses are as strong as possible, so that we can prevent military action.”
Wu, a rising figure in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, has developed a pilot resilience training program for civilians. Run by the Forward Alliance, and supported by first aid groups and the unofficial US presence in Taiwan, the American Institute, two workshops have so far hosted about 120 civilians.
Participants learn about situational awareness and personal safety, and hear from professional soldiers, first responders, and humanitarian workers about their experience on the battlefield or in crisis situations. After a basic first aid workshop, mainly focused on severe hemorrhagic injuries, everything is put into practice in a simulation of mass casualties.
“Exist [staged] injuries, bullies, things are chaotic, you don’t know who is who, and that forces our teams to operate and reduce the situation, keep people safe and help, ”says Wu. “[They learn that] it is the person who is by your side that is going to matter the most, and you are an actor and you have a choice and you can make a difference in these situations ”, he says.
Wu says the resilience workshops are not just about preparing for a military attack, listing the frequent Taiwan earthquakes, industrial accidents, typhoons and the recent deadly train accident in Hualien as far more likely reasons for needing a skilled society. for crisis.
But it is the military conflict that people focus on the most. This month, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom announced a new security partnership, Aukus, aimed at countering China, just days before the Australian and United States foreign ministers pledged to “strengthen ties” with his “critical partner”, Taiwan. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to rule out getting involved in a conflict over Taiwan.
The Taiwanese government, under current president Tsai Ing-wen, says it does not seek conflict. It maintains that Taiwan is already a sovereign nation without the need to declare its independence. But that position is irreconcilable with Beijing’s goals.
How to defend against an acquisition
According to Admiral Lee Hsi-Ming, former head of the Taiwan Navy and Vice Minister of Defense, the first day of a hypothetical invasion attempt by China could involve cyber attacks and long-range missiles that hit targets across the island, including Taipei, paralyzing the Taiwanese air force and navy, and destroying their control over the sea and the air. It’s a dramatic scenario that Lee says Taiwan has little chance of preventing. But it is only the first step. “You cannot compete with a long-range missile attack, but if you want political control you must send ground troops.”
This is where Taiwan can defend itself from a full takeover, Lee says, or, ideally, be so prepared for one that it serves as a deterrent. But if an invasion were to occur, first responders would be overwhelmed, and Wu says a resilient population with key first aid and emergency skills could make the difference between life and death.
“After our professional first aid kits, we need a general population that is prepared at the basic level to be able to help themselves, others and their communities and that does not fall apart after the first impact,” says Wu. “That is essential in any emergency, especially in war.”
Wu has also called for massive upgrades to Taiwan’s air raid shelter system, which at the moment are mostly sites like underground parking lots with no additional facilities or emergency supplies.
‘I would not know what to do’
Much of Taiwan’s population already has some basic training: mandatory military service ran for decades. But under plans to phase in the fully voluntary armed forces, it has been reduced to a four-month basic training course, which is often derided as a “summer camp.” Despite annual budget increases, the military in general has also been described as dysfunctional and “in crisis”. A 2018 graduate of the four-month course, surnamed Chen, tells The Guardian that despite the training, if war broke out today, “he would not know what to do.”
Chen, who did not want to publish his full name, says the rifle exercises used outdated weapons and did not teach him first aid. “Combat strategies and guerrilla warfare are what I am interested in learning; if there was training in this, I would go to learn it with my own money.”
Wu says that, diplomatically, there are improvements to be made in government training, but the resilience workshops are for “everyone else.”
First held in August 2020 and March 2021, the workshops were supposed to be held monthly, until the pandemic got in the way. But Wu hopes they will eventually spread throughout Taiwan. “Without a resilient population that has the will to persist and resist and keep fighting, the people on the front lines would be left out.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism