Jul 26, 2022 - World

Taiwanese seek civil defense training after Russia's invasion of Ukraine

A group of volunteers practicing applying tourniquets during a civil defense training

A trainer demonstrates how to apply a tourniquet during civil defense training in Taipei, Taiwan, on July 23. Photo: Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian/Axios

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the full mobilization of Ukrainian society to fight back, has caused many Taiwanese to think seriously about how they would respond if China were to invade.

The big picture: Since the war in Ukraine began, the demand for civil defense training — which teaches people how to help victims in the case of a military attack or natural disaster — has skyrocketed in Taiwan, according to Forward Alliance, a national security and defense think tank that organizes the trainings.

  • Forward Alliance had originally planned to launch the training programs in August. But after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the organization decided to launch immediately, and soon there were more than 1,000 people registered on its waiting list.
  • The organization is now hosting around 15 sessions monthly, with around 400–500 participants each month.

The training: On Saturday morning, around 30 people wearing face masks gathered in the basement of a Presbyterian church in Taipei. They were divided into small groups, each circled around a box of bandages, gauze and tourniquets.

  • The trainers, first responders who work as medics and firefighters in their day jobs, demonstrated how to put pressure on a wound, pack it with gauze, and then wrap it tightly to staunch the bleeding.
  • "Pull it tight, pull it tight!" urged one trainer as he showed a group of participants how to put on a tourniquet. "It should hurt a lot."
  • In another activity, trainers used an adult-sized dummy and a weighted wooden board to simulate how to rescue a person trapped under a concrete slab, such as might occur if a building collapsed in an earthquake or bombing.

What they're saying: "I think the Russian war had a deep effect on some Taiwanese people," Pei Zhen, a young Taiwanese woman who participated in the training, told me.

  • "Before the war, people I talked to thought that if the Chinese Communist Party attacked us, we would just have to surrender. ... But after the war, I noticed this thinking changed," she said, as people realized they could learn to defend themselves as Ukraine has.

Background: Taiwan has governed itself since 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party won a civil war against the ruling Nationalists, who then fled to the island and established their government there.

  • Although the People's Republic of China has never governed Taiwan, Beijing views the democracy as its own sovereign territory and has long vowed to annex it, by force if necessary.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping has emphasized this goal, and over the past year, the Chinese air force has stepped up its incursions into air space near Taiwan.

Forward Alliance founder Enoch Wu, who is also a former member of Taiwan's special forces, said they started training civilians because "civil preparedness is a whole-of-nation approach to defense and security."

  • "Our mission is to teach citizens how to respond in an emergency. In peacetime, this means disaster response. In wartime, the same skills form the backbone of civil defense."

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