As Ukrainians resist Russian troops, Taiwan looks to its own defenses

A former chief of staff says weapons need to be placed across the island and volunteers trained to use them.
By RFA's Mandarin Service
As Ukrainians resist Russian troops, Taiwan looks to its own defenses Taiwan’s reservists take part in a military training at a military base in Taoyuan, March 12, 2022.

Calls are growing for the government of Taiwan to focus on homeland defense in order to better prepare the democratic island for a possible Chinese invasion.

Earlier this month, former Taiwanese chief of staff Adm. (Ret.) Lee Hsi-ming published an article co-authored with military analyst Michael Hunzeker calling on the island's democratic government to act soon to build its defenses, drawing on lessons from the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion.

"The visceral images of Russian tanks pouring across Ukrainian borders and Russian rockets slamming into Ukrainian cities show that the threat is real, while the surprising efficacy of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces proves that resistance is possible," Lee and Hunzeker wrote in the March 15 article published in War on the Rocks.

Su Tze-yun, director of military strategy and industry at Taiwan's National Defense Academy, said he approved of the concept of a homeland defense for Taiwan, where most people are keen to preserve their democratic way of life.

Currently, homeland defense plans exist, but haven't been hived off into a separate organization, he said.

"The military system consists of active-duty troops, reserve troops, and voluntary reserve troops, which is similar in concept to a homeland defense," Su told RFA. "Active-duty troops and reserve troops are also doing homeland defense."

He said the island has typically focused far more on its defensive, rather than its offensive, capabilities.

"The point of Taiwan's preparedness isn't to set up as an enemy of China, but rather to prevent CCP aggression," Su said.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks while inspecting reservists training at a military base in Taoyuan, March 12, 2022. Credit: AFP
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks while inspecting reservists training at a military base in Taoyuan, March 12, 2022. Credit: AFP
Dedicated territorial defenders

The article called for preparations for an insurgency that could see dedicated territorial defenders carrying out mobile, hit-and-run missions to wreak havoc on logistics convoys, supply depots, command posts, and early follow-on forces, once the initial wave of troops has passed their location. "Lumbering cargo jets" would be particularly good targets, the article said.

The territorial defense force could be kept separate, but be trained by, the national military, and recruit young people who may not have time to be full-time soldiers, according to Hunzeker and Lee.

It said approaches to a potential invasion by China have typically so far focused on either improving Taiwan's military capabilities or on deterring any attack in the first place.

"If deterrence fails, a territorial defense campaign can rally international support as well as buy time for outside forces to intervene," Lee and Hunzeker said.

"It will take Taiwan years to build a viable territorial defense capability from the ground up," the article said. "Russia’s invasion, tragic though it is, has created a rare window of opportunity to jump-start the process."

"Public opinion polls continue to suggest an uptick in the Taiwanese people’s willingness to fight," it said, adding that some of country's 23 million people are already volunteering in civil defense organizations.

The article also called for armories across the island that could also be used as mobilization and training centers.

"Getting weapons and rounds into the hands of the people, ensuring the people know how to use them, and making sure there are enough ... are all essential," it said.

Xi's ambition

CCP leader Xi Jinping recently told the country's military and armed police force to get 'combat ready' to defend national sovereignty and security, amid fears that Beijing may be planning an invasion of Taiwan in the next few years.

"The entire army needs to strengthen its performance so as to do a good job of ensuring a good start to the 14th Five-Year Plan, and of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the party," Xi told People's Liberation Army (PLA) and People's Armed Police (PAP) leaders, according to a Mar. 10 report in the official CCP newspaper, the People’s Daily.

Some political analysts believe Xi is gearing up to make a definite move to annex, or, in the CCP's terminology, "unify with," Taiwan in the next five years.

America’s top commander in the region Adm. Philip Davidson, has warned that China could be preparing to bring forward plans to invade Taiwan as early as 2027.

However, Lee and Hunzeker's article argued that ultimately an invader can't take and maintain control of a country easily when faced with a resistant population.

"As Russian forces are likely to discover if they do manage to overwhelm Ukraine’s military defenses, a foreign invader cannot attain its ultimate goal — political control — until it pacifies the population," it said, calling for "a properly organized, trained, and equipped territorial defense force" capable of waging a prolonged insurgency.

Taiwan has never been ruled by Beijing nor formed part of the People's Republic of China, but has been locked out of international diplomacy and agencies at the CCP's insistence for decades.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly said that the country's 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty or their democratic way of life, and insists on being treated as a sovereign nation as a prerequisite for any cross-straits talks, an idea that is anathema to Beijing.

Washington has said it will no longer seek to "appease" China on Taiwan, announcing an end to a ban on high-level official and diplomatic contact with Taiwanese officials on Jan. 9, at the tail end of the Trump administration.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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