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Why young people in Taiwan are learning to fight

by Aug 2, 2022World News

Friends who know I am in Taiwan have been sending me increasingly alarming messages – “I hope you have your flak jacket with you!” “Does your hotel have a bomb shelter?”

They’ve seen the fire-breathing rhetoric coming from Chinese state media, most notably the Global Times, and have concluded that Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan could end very badly.

Indeed some very eminent US-based China scholars have said the same, calling the visit “reckless” and warning against “pushing Beijing into a corner”.

That’s not how it’s viewed here.

Freddy Lim is a one-time heavy metal singer, and now a ruling party MP. These days Freddy sports a short haircut and a smart shirt, but tattoos still peek out from beneath his neatly pressed cuffs.

“There is a basic principle that we welcome high level politicians like Nancy Pelosi coming to Taiwan. It’s very important. It is not a provocation against China. It is welcoming a friend in a normal way, just like any other country,” he told the news.

This is something all the main political parties in Taiwan agree on.

Charles Chen is an MP for the opposition KMT (Kuomintang) party, and a former presidential spokesman.

“I think this time if Speaker Pelosi can come to Taiwan, it will be a crucial time for the United States to show support to Taiwan, to Taiwan’s democracy,” he said.

From Taiwan’s point of view the arrival here of the third most powerful politician in the US carries huge symbolic significance. It also serves to normalise such high-level visits, which Taiwan would like to see a lot more of (the last one was 25 years ago).

But by itself Nancy Pelosi’s visit does not change the fundamental calculus – that Taiwan’s status as a free and democratic society is in jeopardy.

There is a growing realisation that China’s threats to “reunifying the island, by force if necessary” are real, and that China now vastly outmatches Taiwan in military capability.

Last week Taiwan showed off its military power in a five-day extravaganza of live fire drills and air and naval manoeuvres called Han Kuang 38.

To the casual observer it was an impressive show of modern military might. To specialists it showed just how far Taiwan has fallen behind China.

Its tanks, artillery and fighter jets are old, its navy ships lack the most modern radar and missile systems and it has no modern submarines.

There’s little doubt that in a head-to-head fight, China would win. But what would trigger a Chinese attack? For Beijing the red line has traditionally been a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan.

Mr Chen says the current government of President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been getting dangerously close to that.

“The condition for Beijing to attack Taiwan may be that it believes Taiwan is going independent and there’s no way to draw back,” he says.

“So, if in the next presidential election the DPP candidate wins again, then maybe Beijing will make a decision to make an early attack on Taiwan to prevent it going independent.”

That is a rather self-serving argument from a party that is desperate to get back in to power. But it does illustrate the deep dividing line in Taiwan politics.

On one side is the KMT, which wants to assure Beijing that Taiwan will not change the status quo. On the other are those like Freddy Lim, who believe placating China has failed and that the only answer is for Taiwan to have a stronger defence.

“We have tried to appease China for decades. And it just proves we cannot appease them,” he says.

“After the Ukraine war, the polls clearly show that Taiwanese people support having a stronger defence… Especially the younger generation show a strong will to defend our own country.”

Mr Lim is right that the Ukraine war has had a big impact here.

Last weekend at a disused factory building half an hour outside Taipei, I watched around 30 young men and women learning basic gun skills. The weapons are powered by compressed air, but otherwise are identical to the real thing. The training company is run by Max Chiang.

“Since February the numbers joining has jumped by 50% and the number of women joining is now 40-50% of some classes,” he tells me.

“People have begun to realise the reality that a stronger country could invade a smaller neighbouring country. They’ve seen what happened in Ukraine and it shows what could happen here.”

In a building next door, a more advanced group is going through street fighting scenarios. This group is in full camouflage, with body armour, helmets and radio communications gear.

At a table loading her gun is Lisa Hsueh.

“If our tensions with China lead to war, I’ll stand up to protect myself and my family. That is the reason that I learned to use a gun,” she says.

“Women like me don’t go fight at the front line. But if a war breaks out, we will be able to protect ourselves in our homes.”

I ask her why she believes it’s important to be ready to fight for Taiwan.

“I cherish our freedom. We live in a democratic country. So, these are our basic rights. And we must uphold these values,” she answers.

“China is a country without democratic rights. So I feel blessed to have grown up in Taiwan.”

Lisa Hsueh

Taiwan military drill



Charles Chen





taiwan air defence drill



Max Chiang

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