Taiwan looks to Ukraine war for ideas to defend against China

The autonomous island, as China claims, had already looked at ways to upgrade its defenses, as tensions in the region have risen in recent years. But the events in Ukraine, which some politicians have described as a wake-up call for Taiwan, are accelerating the process.

A potential change is an extension of Taiwan’s four-month compulsory military service for men, although many younger Taiwanese disapprove of military service.

A spokesman for President Tsai Ing-wen said last week that the Defense Ministry was considering whether to increase the requirement, with new surveys showing support for the idea among 70% or more of Taiwanese adults. Taiwan’s defense minister told lawmakers last week that a working group is examining the possibility of conscription for as long as 12 months, with a decision to be made this year.

“If a war breaks out in Taiwan, the four months of military training we currently have will not be enough,” said Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng.

Debates about other possible steps have dominated legislative meetings and TV talk shows in recent weeks, with many discussions revolving around the type of guerrilla-style tactics and weapons used by Ukraine and favored by strategists to help smaller militaries avoid being overwhelmed by larger ones. powers.

Taiwanese military leaders have generally preferred to invest in high-ticket equipment such as jet fighters, tanks and ships. But Washington-based analysts warn that these things could be quickly destroyed by a more powerful invading force.

One idea being considered by lawmakers and defense experts is to store attack drones, after their deployment in Ukraine helped Kyiv slow down Russia’s advance.

The Legislative Defense Committee this month approved a motion to propose more training in air defense warfare, possibly with portable weapons such as Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger air defense missiles, used by Ukrainian soldiers.

“When we look at the urban warfare in Ukraine, the armored and air defense equipment owned by individual soldiers actually plays a big role in deterrence,” said Wang Ting-yu, a lawmaker for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, who suggested that he also have pushed for the rapid delivery of four MQ-9 Reaper drones that the United States agreed to sell Taiwan by 2020 but which Taipei has not yet ordered.

A Taiwanese military official said he expected the drones to be used in 2025.

Some security experts say that Ukraine’s experience shows the importance of stored weapons because the country quickly burned through its stockpile of mobile weapons and had to rely on additional supplies from the United States and other countries brought in across its border. Providing Taiwan with additional weapons in a conflict would be more challenging, mainly because it is an island.

“Providing Taiwan is a much more difficult task and may not be possible for a long time,” said Ivan Kanapathy, a former military adviser to the US government in Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu has said more US arms deals will be announced. Separately, the military’s research and development institute aims to more than double its annual production of missiles, including long-range cruise missiles from Hsiung Sheng and supersonic missiles from Hsiung Feng III, according to a February report sent to lawmakers and seen by The Wall Street. Newspaper.

At the same time, the production of Taiwanese-made drones that self-destruct when they hit military targets is expected to begin this year, according to the report, which was compiled before the war in Ukraine began.

There is no indication that the war in the Taiwan Strait is imminent. But Beijing has promised to take Taiwan under control eventually, by force if necessary, and has expanded military air travel in the area.

The Chinese Ministry of Defense did not respond to a request for comment. At a recent press conference, a spokeswoman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office accused Taiwan’s ruling party of “holding on and taking advantage of the situation in Ukraine to its advantage”, blaming Taipei for rising tensions across the strait.

Measures being discussed in Taiwan are still far from the kind of major redevelopment that some experts in the United States and elsewhere say is needed to upgrade Taiwan’s military after years of low morale and accidents, including two jet crashes this year.

Critics of Taiwan’s military, including some US analysts, say it has failed to respond because China’s military has modernized and grown rapidly, and would now find it difficult to deter and, if necessary, ward off an invasion by its more powerful neighbor.

“They have to be scary enough in Beijing’s eyes,” said Ian Easton, senior director of Project 2049 Institute, a U.S.-based non-profit research organization focusing on the Indo-Pacific. Mr. Easton said Taiwan must increase the size of its military, which has shrunk for decades.

Taiwan recently set up an agency to improve training for its reserve force, but analysts and some former Taiwanese military officials say more radical action is needed.

Lee Hsi-min, a former chief of staff of the Taiwanese military, said Taiwan should develop a territorial defense force that citizens can join to provide an additional layer of defense. Mr Lee said he had no hope of adopting such an idea.

Many people on the island, which was once a military dictatorship, are still wary of a powerful military. If popular support proves to be a fad, it could jeopardize the ruling party’s political fortunes if it pushes for military expansion ahead of important mayoral elections this year.

Changes in conscription would probably trigger heated debates. Taiwan required men to serve about two years more than two decades ago, but it declined as its economy matured and many people focused on business careers.

In interviews with local media and online comments, some residents have suggested that Taiwan should focus on improving existing education. Others have suggested that women should also be worked out.

Taiwan’s defense minister said it was still considering factors such as the enemy’s threats, operational needs and training capabilities before making a decision.

Still, it is clear that the Ukraine war has hit a nerve.

Self-help books on how to survive a war have ended up on bestseller lists. Hsiao Bi-khim, Taipei’s de facto ambassador to the United States, wrote in a recently published Washington Post article that Ukraine’s resilience has inspired Taiwan.

“The will to defend our homeland and our democratic way of life is also stronger than ever,” Hsiao wrote.

For the first time, an annual disaster preparedness exercise beginning on March 31 and coordinated by the Taiwanese military will include a wartime scenario, where buildings will be hit by missiles and engulfed in flames.

Jacky Lin, a 27-year-old reservist who recently completed a two-week refresher course, said the Ukraine conflict has changed his views on the possibility of war with China from four years ago, a calmer time when he began his compulsory military service.

“This is our country. We must protect it ourselves,” said Lin, a prison officer who was among about 400 reservists who took part in a renewed and more intensive course, including weapons skills, first aid on the battlefield and a 10-kilometer forced foot march.

“We can not be like Afghanistan, come under attack and not be able to fight back,” he said, referring to Kabul’s fall under the Taliban last year.

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