Taipei, Taiwan- Since the Taiwanese government fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, preparing for possible military actions by China has been a prospect. There were three close encounters between the 1950s and the 1990s, and now there may be a reason for us to worry again as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) completes its ambitious military modernization campaign.
In a recently released white paper, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense stated that the People’s Liberation Army has the capability to block Taiwan’s major airports and ports, while the Pentagon stated that they will be able to “force Taiwan’s leadership to enter the negotiating table in 2027 at the earliest.” .
Since taking office in 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen has been focusing on improving the capabilities of the armed forces and has conducted extensive weapons procurement activities from the United States when the relationship between her government and Beijing has dimmed. In August, the administration of US President Joe Biden approved its first sale of $750 million in weapons to Taiwan, after Donald Trump approved $5.1 billion in weapons sales in 2020.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense is now requesting an additional US$9 billion in the next five years to improve Taiwan’s national defense. This money will be a supplement to the existing and growing budget.
As Taiwan’s vision gets darker, it needs to consider another big question, that is, whether ordinary people are prepared.
Most male citizens need to complete national service. In theory, this should prepare them to supplement the professional army. According to budget data, the upper limit is now about 188,000. If civilian contractors and trainees are taken into account, it will be Increase to 215,000.
Due to budgetary and political reasons, the military has been restricted-most democracies do not maintain a large standing army-so the reserve will play an important supporting role, relocating bombed runways, repairing vehicles and simply digging ditches. At the time of the attack, approximately 1 million of these reserve personnel who had completed national service in the past eight years could be called up in the first round of mobilization.
“Interns are more like a burden”
However, despite their important role, Taiwan faces the question of whether its reserve team is capable of actual combat and whether it has an appropriate system to supervise them, if they are mobilized under wartime conditions.
After completing national service (shortened from one year about ten years ago to four months), most reserve personnel must return for about a week of recall training on two different occasions to improve their skills. However, in practice, the results have been mixed.
“The new four-month compulsory military service does not provide enough time for various professional training, and it also provides them with sufficient joint exercise experience,” said Kitsch Liao Yen-fan, a cyber warfare and military adviser at Taiwan’s Shuangsi Laboratory. . “This means that these four-month-old new students are not so much an actual combat capability that they can rely on, but rather a burden.”
Wen Li is the director of the Office of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s Matsu Islands, a group of islands under the jurisdiction of Taiwan, located on the southeast coast of China. Tell Al Jazeera that he learned how to drive and repair armored vehicles during his service.
Although he thinks this experience is worthwhile, he also said that there is still room for improvement.
“I played a supporting role-my role is similar to that of a mechanic and a teaching assistant-but firstly it has to do with the purpose of our particular unit and the expected role of the conscripts,” he told Al Jazeera.
He said that reservists could benefit from a “clearer role,” detailing how they can assist regular soldiers by focusing on logistics, first aid, and similar support during wartime—a point that analysts have also raised.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense stated that, for a long time, Taiwan’s defense strategy has focused on “asymmetric defense” or “counter-shore resistance, naval offensives, coastal area destruction, and beachhead annihilation.” In practice, this means that although Taiwan has more numbers than the People’s Liberation Army, it aims to make itself an unattractive target by being able to resist for a long time.
For this reason, the Ministry of National Defense established the Comprehensive National Defense Mobilization Bureau in January to oversee the reserves.
A pilot project will also begin in the same month to comprehensively reform the recall training and test a more intensive 14-day program for 15,000 recalled reserve personnel. Recently, some recalls also talked about changes in the military’s attitude towards them, which shows that their potential value has also been recognized.
Cy Chen, who works in the customer service department, told Al Jazeera that his first experience of participating in the recollection training three years ago felt like a “summer camp” for the Boy Scouts, but in his second recent recollection, he noticed that When his team reviewed how to conduct the recall, the tone changed significantly. They used guns and practiced marksmanship.
“As one of our leaders mentioned there,’We learned how to shoot and how to hide, but never learned how to avoid or how to fight.’ I think this process is to ensure that when the country needs you, you There is no fear of using guns, and this process also reminds us how to (valuate) peace,” he said.
‘There is still a lot of work to be done’
However, if Taiwan really wants to have a strong national defense force, improving practical skills and training is only part of it. On the one hand, the Taiwanese military is a bit unbalanced because it has nearly 90,000 non-commissioned officers (NCO)—soldiers who start at the entry level and are gradually promoted—but only 44,127 soldiers and 36,232 officers are ranked higher based on government budget data. .
According to Song Wendi, a lecturer in the Taiwan Studies Program at the Australian National University, only about 40% of military officers and 60% of noncommissioned officers in Taiwan need to supervise, train, and coordinate recalled reserve personnel as part of Taiwan’s larger “plug and play” or “preparation” The “ready” defense strategy is based on a relatively small military and a wider civilian base.
However, due to low wages, benefits and social status, as well as negative links with Taiwan, the Taiwan military has long been an unpopular career choice. Martial law Regime, the army played a vital role in suppressing human rights at that time. “To make national defense become Taiwan’s main occupation for attracting high-quality talents, there is still a lot of work to be done,” Song said.
A new national defense white paper published earlier this month proposes better housing, childcare and more professional development courses, but it is not clear whether this is enough to attract people to sign up.
At present, a lieutenant’s monthly salary is only NT$51,915 (US$1,867), while a colonel—one of the most senior field positions in the military—a monthly salary of NT$78,390 (US$2,816), plus a bonus The average monthly salary of NT$54,320 is almost the same. Pensions were also cut in 2018 because the government was unable to balance the decline in population and structural changes in Taiwan’s economy.
“How do you make them [professional recruits] Believing that joining the army is not a lifetime commitment, can they have a second life outside the army? This is the situation in the US military. Most people have a second life after retiring,” said Liao of Doublethink, who described how Taiwan is now in a “race” against time.
“This is not about buying all large weapons and acquiring all possible missiles, but about changing attitudes, culture and society as a whole to prepare for emergencies and form a deterrent in time.”
On the other hand, legislators and military experts in Taiwan and the United States have been discussing whether to train militias or prepare volunteers to provide food and shelter in many temples in Taiwan.
At present, groups outside the government have organized small seminars, such as the Taiwan Military Police Tactical Research and Development Association (TTRDA), which trains civilians in skills such as tactical shooting practice, and the Forward Alliance, which teaches skills such as first-class skills Skills-major disaster relief.
“We believe that a resilient society and a prepared society will play an important role in the Beijing authorities’ final decision to use force. This means that behind the 180,000 to 200,000 powerful troops, we have a system of reserve and civilian personnel. They are trained and equipped to be mobilized in emergency situations. The idea is that civilians will supplement the strength of our regular forces,” said Enoch Wu, the founder of the Frontline Alliance who served in Taiwan’s special forces.
The alliance teaches people how to protect themselves, how to treat the injured, how to work together as a team, and how to protect their surroundings.
Wu added: “Whether we are dealing with an earthquake or in a worse military conflict situation, for civilians trained to support our emergency responders, these things are the cornerstone of emergency response.”
But Taiwan must now deal with the increasing use of “gray zone” psychological warfare and other confrontational tactics that may allow China to “win Taiwan without a fight.” These range from cyber warfare and misinformation, to crashing into Taiwan coast guard ships, patrolling the Taiwan Strait, and sending PLA aircraft into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), a land and sea monitored by the military.
According to the Ministry of National Defense, from September 16 to July 31 last year, Chinese aircraft conducted 554 sorties to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. They continued their scheduled flights in September, Increase activities around October 1stDuring the National Day of China, nearly 150 flights were sent to the air defense identification zone in four days.
Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asian Program at the German Marshall Foundation in the United States, said that these patrols have “multiple goals, including testing Taiwan’s response, training Chinese pilots, issuing warning signals to the Taiwanese government, and inciting nationalism in the country.” Glaser described China’s growing capabilities as “worrying”, although she does not believe any immediate military action will be taken.
At present, the Taiwan military has stated that it will continue to pay attention to developments and act cautiously to avoid further escalation.
Will Taiwan’s most important ally, the United States, continue toStrategic ambiguity“This is between defending Taiwan and not angering China. According to the provisions of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States promised to “provide Taiwan with a number of defense goods and defense services that may be needed so that Taiwan can maintain sufficient self-defense capabilities.” “.
However, its guarantees did not receive promising military support.
Since taking office, Biden has issued multiple statements suggesting that if he is attacked, he will support diplomatic isolation of democracy, but White House officials quickly eased his remarks.
Song from the Australian National University told Al Jazeera that the more potential allies Taiwan can acquire, the more it can offset China’s ability to attack Taiwan.
He said that “objective ability and subjective political will” were needed to carry out actions at that time. In addition to the United States, the list of potential allies may include Japan, South Korea, Australia, and even some European countries, all of whom are concerned about the future of the Taiwan Strait.
“We see that China is estimated to be more or less placed in 2027, because China has enough conventional advantages to successfully launch an offensive. If you talk to more military crowds, they will tell you that maybe it is closer to 2035. “Song said. “But that is a straight line projection number. If you consider the possibility of other types of hawkish wars or more (Taiwanese) friends and allies participating in this situation, then we may postpone the timeline to the future.”