Taiwanese practice firearms in citizen training.
The war in Ukraine and the tensions with China are scaring many Taiwanese, who are rushing to training in weapons handling and first aid. China considers the small island part of its territory and promises to take it back.
On a sweltering, sticky Saturday morning in Taipei, in an old deserted warehouse with faded paint, about 20 Taiwanese in sportswear are handling guns for the first time in their lives.
Inspired by the Ukrainian resistance and alarmed by the constant threat of Chinese invasion, they chose to learn the basics of handling weapons and practice their marksmanship with plastic bullets.
Welly Huang doesn't look like a warrior. He wears his usual running shoes and a simple blue sweater. This engineer is attentive. He is taking part in this training with his family in mind.
Based on the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, it is a good thing to be prepared and to keep abreast of the government's mobilization and defense plans, explains Welly Huang. As I have a family, two children, I learn to protect them. I must do this if the inevitable war should come.
In a poll conducted in May, more than 60% of Taiwanese said they were ready to take up arms to defend the island against China. But Welly Huang doubts these numbers.
“I think there are only a few people who are really ready to defend our island. Perhaps the majority would be ready to surrender. But Taiwan is a small island, not Ukraine. You cannot come here by car. It works in our favor.
— Welly Huang
Beside him, Wang Ying-jie also practices his shooting and listens to the advice of teachers, former Taiwanese soldiers. She wears a sweater with the image of Franklin, a thoughtful and intelligent character from the Charlie Brown comic strip.
Wang Ying-jie has mischievous eyes that barely hide his determination. She will not hesitate to defend herself in the event of an invasion. This basic course already makes her more confident in her abilities.
I don't want to have to, but I will defend myself, she said. I think I would be able to apply what we learn here. The teachers gave us clear and precise information.
Elsewhere in Taipei, another weekend, men in army clothes are running with automatic weapons. They are undergoing war training. More advanced courses in urban guerrilla warfare are offered by the organization Polar Light Training.
China has 10 times more soldiers than Taiwan and 4 times more fighter jets. But for many Taiwanese, the war in Ukraine proves that they too could resist.
Enrollment in all types of warfare and homeland protection training offered to civilians has quadrupled since the start of the war in Ukraine, which exacerbates the sense of crisis in Taiwan.
“Every time the news reports of rising tensions between China and Taiwan, we see the number of registrations increase. Half of the participants cite these tensions as a motivation to take our courses. Others talk more about the war in Ukraine.
— Basic Weapons Training Coach Shen Zhi-liang
At a small, modern community center behind a church in downtown Taipei , dozens of participants play makeshift doctors.
A group practices giving first aid to injured people.
Wartime first aid training is also popular. In these hands-on, hour-long classes offered every Saturday morning this summer, participants learn how to stop heavy bleeding by applying pressure or applying a tourniquet. They are also taught some techniques for quickly evacuating the wounded.
“If China attacks us, there will be a lot of injuries. I want to be able to do my part. It's not complicated to know how to put pressure on a wound or evacuate the injured. We were also given examples of staying calm in an emergency. I feel a little braver after this class. »
—Jo Yi Shao
The threat of Chinese invasion has been part of daily life in Taiwan for a long time. Fears and worries are omnipresent, but not paralyzing. We cannot speak of terror or terrified Taiwanese.
It doesn't prevent us from living, says Enoch Wu of Forward Alliance, which organizes first aid training. We take care of our families and we go to work, but we always have the threat of invasion in mind. It is a national threat.
At training on the handling of handguns, Welly Huang shares this vision of the threat of Chinese invasion.
I can't say that I'm worried all the time, every day. I just have to live and fulfill myself with this threat. But I know this invasion will happen sooner or later. Maybe in a year, maybe in five years.
He believes he can only prepare. He intends to continue to practice and work on his shooting.
Our correspondent in Asia Philippe Leblanc will be based in Taiwan for the next few months, to help us discover this island of nearly 24 million inhabitants, its society and the challenges that drive it. And also to cover current issues throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
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