Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visited army reservists training under a new scheme to bolster war readiness on Saturday, a program that has gotten added impetus from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, given China’s bellicosity against the island.
The war in Ukraine has stirred debate in Chinese-claimed Taiwan about its own readiness and tactics should Beijing ever make good on threats to take the island by force.
Taiwan’s government announced late last year a reform of the training of its reserve forces, including doubling down on combat and shooting exercises.
Under the new program which began this month, reservists get two weeks of training, rather than the previous five to seven days, and spend more time on combat training like firing guns.
Observing the training at the Nanshipu firing range outside the capital Taipei, Tsai, dressed in full military fatigues including body armor, said reservists were specifically getting trained in areas close to their homes.
“The recent situation in Ukraine once again proves that the protection of the country, in addition to international solidarity and assistance, depends on the unity of the whole people,” she said, flanked by her top security officials.
Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters there were many lessons they could learn from Ukraine, where he said people were being given guns and sent to fight after only a few days of training.
“For our reservists, if they train for between seven and 14 days a year, that gives us a lot more confidence.”
Taiwan has been gradually shifting from a conscript military to a volunteer-dominated professional force.
But Reuters has reported the switch was troublesome and has led to a gutting of the 2.31 million-strong reserve force. Some complained of wasting time on pointless drills and lectures during retraining.
The new system is being trialed in the first three quarters of this year on about 15,000 reservists and will be reviewed in the fourth quarter to see whether it will continue.
Taiwan and Ukraine’s armed forces are both undermanned and under gunned compared to their giant neighbors.
Tsai has championed the concept of “asymmetric warfare” to make the military more mobile, harder to attack and better able to survive and strike back in a war, as Beijing steps up what Taipei views as its threats against the island.
Reservists are part of that plan.
The Defense Ministry has been heavily promoting the new scheme on its social media channels, showing pictures of reservists carrying out live-fire drills and being greeted by flag-waving children shouting messages of support.
Freddy Lim, an independent lawmaker who sits on parliament’s defense and foreign affairs committee, told Reuters the Russian invasion of Ukraine has made many Taiwanese more determined to defend the island and has boosted public support for reservist training reform and civil defense.
“In the past, before Ukraine, we were called alarmist when we made these efforts. That’s not the case anymore,” he said.
“Like Ukraine, I believe we have a very strong will to defend our country.”