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Fearing War With China, Civilians In Taiwan Prepare For Disaster; China Says Military Drills Designed To Test Its Ability To ‘Seize Power’; US Intelligence, Xi Has Instructed The MilitaryTo Be Ready To Invade Taiwan By 2027

The recent escalation of military activities around Taiwan by the People's Liberation Army, PLA has heightened tensions in the region. Over the past few days, China has initiated large-scale exercises encircling Taiwan, aimed at demonstrating and testing its ability to assert control over the island. The escalation comes in the wake of Taiwan's new president, Lai Ching-te, taking office—a leader known for his strong stance on Taiwan's sovereignty, much to Beijing's dismay. However, the unprecedented scale and inclusion of various military branches, including the Coast Guard, signal a significant shift in China's approach, stirring both concern and preparation among Taiwan's civilians for the possibility of conflict.

The People’s Liberation Army announced on Friday that it had begun the second day of extensive exercises encircling its democratic neighbour, Taiwan. The military drills are intended to test China’s capability to “seize power” over the island.

These exercises are the largest in over a year and come shortly after Taiwan inaugurated its new president, Lai Ching-te, who Beijing despises for advocating the island’s sovereignty and distinct identity.

On Friday, the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command stated that the drills were continuing on both sides of the Taiwan island chain to “test the ability to jointly seize power, launch joint attacks, and occupy key areas.” 

These two-day exercises involve joint operations by China’s army, navy, air force, and rocket force, conducted in the Taiwan Strait—a narrow body of water separating the island from mainland China—as well as to the north, south, and east of Taiwan, according to the PLA.

To be noted, it is for the first time, the PLA drills also included China’s Coast Guard, operating around Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu, and Dongyin, which are located just off the southeastern coast of China. 

China, Taiwan, Military DrillPreparing For War

Even as China is outrightly ‘challenging’ Taiwan, civilians in Taiwan are preparing for disaster, fearing a potential war with China and devising plans for an attack.

Picture this: a missile has struck Taiwan’s capital, causing devastation in an otherwise peaceful park. Moments earlier, pedestrians were strolling along paved streets; now, torn limbs are scattered across blood-soaked cobblestones, and everywhere, the dying and wounded writhe on the ground, screaming in pain and calling for help.

Soon, shaken first responders rush to aid them, trying to locate the most seriously injured, stop the bleeding from wounds, and carry people to safety.

A typical scene from a warzone, right? 

Thankfully, it hasn’t happened; the blood and limbs are fake, the injured are unharmed actors, the first responders are trainees, and the scene is part of a simulation organized in late January by the civil defence group Kuma Academy.

The drill lasted eight hours and included training people on how to respond to air defence alarms, use the surrounding terrain as cover, and avoid detection by enemy forces.

“In today’s large-scale exercise, we are simulating real-life scenarios to allow our students to get hands-on experience,” explains Chen Ying, an instructor at Kuma Academy.

One hundred and twenty participants, all of whom had completed basic first aid and disaster response training, took part.

Being In War

One participant said he initially signed up to understand what the situation would be like in the event of a disaster or war. 

“If something like that happens, it means that you should be prepared,” he says. “You will be better able to cope with it emotionally and mentally.”

Kuma Academy has grown rapidly in recent years, now offering a wide variety of courses and exercises covering topics from cyberattacks and disinformation to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and injury assessment.

The organization is part of a wider grassroots movement of Taiwan civil defence groups that have emerged across the island in recent years, attracting a surge of civilians signing up for training.

Lessons primarily focus on nonviolent forms of civil preparedness.

“We leave combat to the Taiwanese military,” says Ho Cheng-Hui, activist and co-founder of Kuma Academy, during one of the organization’s training sessions.

The nonviolent training takes many forms. Some organizations, like Kuma Academy, arrange realistic, large-scale training exercises with over 100 participants at a time. Smaller local groups focus on civil defense by gathering people for physical training at community centers.

Classes are offered on various subjects, such as tying knots, administering first aid, maintaining a stash of emergency supplies, packing a grab-and-go bag, and making a tourniquet. 

Other classes focus on civil defense in the virtual realm, teaching participants how to counter online manipulation campaigns and distinguish fact-based information from misinformation and disinformation.

According to Assistant Professor Fang-Yu Chen from the Department of Political Science at Soochow University in Taipei, all these civil defense preparations are driven by concerns about China.

“Taiwanese are concerned about China taking aggressive steps against Taiwan,” he says.

Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing has regarded self-ruled Taiwan (officially the Republic of China) as an inseparable part of China.

In 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he would not rule out using force to bring the island under CCP control.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center last year showed that 66 percent of Taiwan’s people consider Beijing’s power a major threat to Taiwan. Almost 83 percent believe the threat from China has increased in recent years, according to a 2023 poll by Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

Their fears appear to be well-founded, as according to U.S. intelligence, Xi has instructed the military to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027, according to news reports.

Division Bells

However, not everyone in Taiwan has welcomed the growth of civil defence groups like Kuma Academy. 

Some are concerned that these groups may be endangering the island by further antagonizing China.

While, others view the emergence of these new organizations as a symptom of a failing state-controlled civil defence structure and criticize the government for not doing enough to strengthen and expand the existing system.

Ho acknowledges that civil defense in Taiwan is far from perfect but believes that at least more people are learning how to save lives through groups like his.

“We want to teach civilians how they can protect themselves and each other, so that if war comes, everyone is prepared.”

Learning A Lesson

For 41-year-old accountant Alex Yeh, who lives in New Taipei City, preparing for a potential Chinese attack began with the events in Hong Kong less than five years ago.

In 2020, Hong Kong authorities successfully quelled massive pro-democracy protests, and Beijing imposed a national security law on the city, placing Chinese law above Hong Kong law and allowing cases in Hong Kong to be tried in China.

The year before, Xi had emphasized that the concept of “one country, two systems,” which had characterized Beijing’s governance of Hong Kong, was suitable for Taiwan as well.

“It all made me afraid for Taiwan’s future and the danger that Taiwanese civilians like me could face,” Yeh says while unpacking fitness equipment with a dozen other people in a park on the outskirts of Taipei one early evening.

So she started reaching out to others in her network and found that she was not the only one worried. A few of them initially met up to chat, but eventually, they decided they needed to do more than just talk.

“We all wanted to do something to improve our own preparedness and safety,” she explains as a group of children run past on their way to a playground in the center of the park. “For the sake of keeping others safe as well,” she adds, nodding towards the children.

“So, we began taking different kinds of first aid and civil defense classes and exercising regularly together.”

Today, many of Yeh’s friends join her in the park once a week for strength and first aid training.

While events in Hong Kong frightened Yeh, she felt more reassured by developments in Taiwan around the same time. 

During its 2020 election, President Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ran on a platform of not allowing Taiwan to end up like Hong Kong.

Despite having slumped in the polls less than two years prior, Tsai won re-election in a landslide.

“I think that election result was a clear signal that Taiwan does not want to be like Hong Kong,” Yeh says.

China Ups The Game

But then in August 2022, the Chinese military launched some of the biggest navy drills ever held in the Taiwan Strait, combined with the firing of ballistic missiles into the waters around Taiwan. 

The exercises followed a visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi, then the speaker of the United States House of Representatives; her visit sparked fury in Beijing.

During the Chinese military exercises, Yeh began stocking up on supplies. Today, she has enough food and water to last her family three months. 

“The Chinese government showed that it will never stop seeing Taiwan as its territory, and they are now stronger than ever to act on it,” Yeh says.

According to her, a military drill can quickly become a warsomething Moscow demonstrated in early 2022 when its purported military exercises near Ukraine ultimately became an attack.

“Russia’s actions in Ukraine have shown everyone that invasions are not ghosts of the past. They can still happen today,” Yeh says before taking part in first aid exercises with the rest of the group in the park.

Different Views

“We won’t win a war with China anyway,” a conscript said during an interview in late 2018 after learning he had been assigned to four months of navy service.

Others have similarly expressed low confidence in Taiwan’s army and the current civil defense initiatives. One such skeptic is 58-year-old former elementary school teacher Judy Chang.

“I have two sons who both went through military training, and they told me it was a complete waste of time and had nothing to do with preparing for war,” Chang says from her two-story home on the outskirts of Miaoli.

She considers civil defense preparation pointless at best and dangerous at worst. “I’m afraid that such activities will antagonize China and make them even more determined to take Taiwan by force,” she explains.

“A war with China will be the end of Taiwan and lead to the death of many Taiwanese people, no matter how many of them know CPR.”

Chang believes Taiwan should focus on reducing the risk of war by engaging in more dialogue with Beijing and cutting down on its military. “That is why I vote for the Chinese Nationalist Party at every election,” she says.

The party, also known as the Kuomintang (KMT), has her enthusiastic support, particularly its former leader Ma Ying-jeou, who served as Taiwan’s president from 2008 to 2016.

Ma still comments on politics, and in the days leading up to the national elections in January, he said, “No matter how much you defend yourself, you can never fight a war with the mainland [China]. You can never win. They [China] are too large, too much stronger than us.”

During Ma’s presidency, Taiwan’s defense spending decreased from 3 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to 2 percent, and the conscription period was lowered from one year to four months of military training, largely turning Taiwan’s military into a volunteer force.

Many of Ma’s policies were rolled back during Tsai Ing-wen’s presidency (2016-2024). Her DPP government, which won an unprecedented third presidential term after the January elections this year, raised conscription from four months to one year and increased military spending from 2 percent of GDP to 2.5 percent.

William Lai Ching-te, Taiwan’s current president who assumed office on May 20, has committed to continuing these policies. 

Beijing has accused Lai of being “a dangerous separatist” and refuses to communicate with the DPP government, though it engages with KMT representatives.

As a result, the DPP has accused the KMT of kowtowing to Beijing, while the KMT has accused the DPP of stoking war in the Taiwan Strait.

This politicization around China has also affected civil defense groups.

KMT figures have questioned whether organizations like Kuma Academy can make any difference in a war, while others have gone so far as to accuse Kuma Academy of being connected to organized crime.

When one of Kuma Academy’s primary donors, chip billionaire Robert Tsao, announced that some of his donations to Taiwan civil defense groups would go to train 300,000 expert marksmen from among “common folks,” questions were raised about the nature and intent of Kuma Academy’s training.

However, The Taichung Self-Defense Group, set up last year, wants to avoid the controversy and politicization that has plagued other civil defense organizations, so its instructors no longer frame their training in terms of China.

“Our community outreach focuses on general disasters like earthquakes since we have found that many people are less inclined to participate in our courses if war is the premise,” says the group’s 36-year-old founder, You Chiao-Chun, who is also a nurse and avid mountaineer.

“Many Taiwanese have not accepted that there is a possibility that a war might happen,” she says.

Luckily, skills acquired through training for one kind of disaster can often be used in other types of disasters, which indirectly can help prepare the public for war.

“So if a community is struck by an attack, its resilience has already been increased through other kinds of training and preparation,” she explains.

“That way people are better equipped to support the front lines and less likely to panic in a way that could force the government to make hasty decisions.”

Taiwan’s Preparedness

Legally, the Taiwanese government is supposed to be in charge of organizing and coordinating civil defense, but civil servants at the forefront have expressed concerns about being undertrained and underprepared for the task. 

At the same time, legislators and military experts have criticized the government for not addressing civil defense with greater urgency.

Meanwhile, only a fraction of public funds designated for civil defense end up being used for training volunteers.

To accommodate calls for greater civil defense preparedness, the military released a handbook on civil defense in 2022 meant to act as a guide in a war scenario. 

But different versions of the book have been criticized for containing dead internet links and telephone numbers to canceled hotlines, as well as inaccurate depictions of military equipment.

According to 30-year-old Jack Yao, Taiwan’s people should not wait for a collective effort or for the government to fix the civil defense system.

“You need to do more now yourself to prepare,” Yao says.

With his family and some close friends, he has set up supply depots of food, water, and equipment to last them several months in case a military crisis erupts.

“If you wait to get these things until after a war happens, it will be too late,” he says, leaning forward across a large white desk in a brightly lit room that he uses for storing some of his equipment. “You don’t want to be unprepared when war starts because war is s***.”

Yao learned that the day he entered Ukraine to volunteer as a medic.

It was April 2022, and he had just crossed the border from Poland when a Russian missile struck near him, killing many of the people Yao had teamed up with since landing in Warsaw. “That was my ‘welcome to Ukraine’,” he states.

The View Point

The situation in Taiwan remains complex and fraught with tension as the island struggles with the threat of Chinese aggression. 

While civil defense initiatives have grown in response to these threats, opinions on their efficacy and necessity are divided. Some, like the members of Kuma Academy, see these efforts as essential for preparing civilians for any eventuality, fostering resilience, and enhancing community preparedness. 

Others, however, fear that such activities might provoke China and believe in reducing military engagement through diplomatic means.

The Taiwanese government has attempted to strengthen its defense posture by increasing conscription periods and military spending, signaling a more robust stance against potential threats. 

Yet, the debate over how best to safeguard Taiwan—through military readiness or diplomatic engagement—continues to polarize the nation.

What remains clear is that the uncertainty of the geopolitical arena necessitates multiple approaches to national security. 

Grassroots civil defense training, government policies, and international diplomacy all play crucial roles in ensuring Taiwan’s safety and stability. 










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