On a regular day, they’re lawyers, software engineers and blacksmiths. But this week, they donned military fatigues, fired assault rifles at numbered targets, and marched long distances in full military gear – all to prepare for a possible attack by China’s military.
The 400-odd men were some of Taiwan’s reservists, the first to face a new, stringent 14-day training schedule – up from the previous seven days – introduced by the government this month to boost the island’s combat readiness.
Analysts say the tougher training schedule, among other moves, show how seriously Taiwan is taking the threat of a possible Chinese invasion – and those fears have only heightened recently, with some drawing comparisons between Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and the potential existential threat to Taiwan.
Beijing has dismissed the similarities though the ruling Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly vowed to “reunify” with the self-ruling island of 24 million people – by force if necessary – despite having never governed it. Beijing has also stepped up its military pressure on Taiwan, including sending a record number of warplanes last year near Taiwan, which is fewer than 124 miles (200 kilometers) from China’s southeastern coast.
This month’s strengthened military training has already drawn the ire of Beijing, with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office calling the move a “provocation.”
“It is very dangerous for them to go on like this,” spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian said in a regular briefing in Beijing Wednesday, referring to Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party. “(They) do not hesitate to tie people in Taiwan to the tank of separatism and push them into an abyss of disaster.”
But while the increased training appears to have angered Beijing, military analysts and lawmakers warn that it won’t be enough to fend off a potential onslaught from one of the world’s most powerful militaries. And although the war in Ukraine is happening half a world away from Taiwan, it has ignited debate on the island over what Taiwan’s government can do to prepare.
What is Taiwan doing?
Even before Russia launched its unprovoked attack on Ukraine last month, fears had been growing that Beijing could take Taiwan by force.
In the last few months, Beijing has been conducting combat readiness drills near the island – including regularly flying military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, as well as conducting joint air and naval exercises around the Taiwan Strait, Chinese state media reported.
Taipei responded by committing a record amount of defense spending this year, and an additional $8.7 bil