The war in Ukraine is giving new impetus to Taiwan’s military reserve reforms

An army reserve force takes part in gunnery training at a camp base in Nanshipu
Army reserve force takes part in gunnery training at a camp base in Nanshipu, Taiwan, March 12, 2022. REUTERS/Ann Wang

March 12, 2022

By Ben Blanchard

NANSHIPU, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Saturday visited army reservists being trained under a new war readiness-boosting program, a program brought on by the Russian invasion of Ukraine amid China’s belligerence the island has received an additional boost.

The war in Ukraine has sparked debate in Chinese-claimed Taiwan over its own preparedness and tactics if Beijing ever carries out its threats to take the island by force.

Taiwan’s government announced late last year a reform of its reserve forces’ training, including a doubling of combat and target practice.

Under the new program, which began this month, reservists will receive two weeks of training instead of the previous five to seven days, spending more time on combat training such as firing guns.

Watching the training at the Nanshipu firing range outside the capital Taipei, Tsai, dressed in full military fatigues including body armor, said reservists were specifically trained in areas near their homes.

“The recent situation in Ukraine proves once again that the country’s protection depends on the unity of the whole people alongside international solidarity and assistance,” she said, flanked by her top security officials.

Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters they could learn many lessons from Ukraine, where people are given guns and sent into battle after just a few days of training.

“If our reservists train between seven and 14 days a year, that gives us a lot more self-confidence.”

Taiwan has gradually transformed itself from a conscript military to a volunteer-dominated professional force.

But Reuters has reported that the move has been problematic and has resulted in the evisceration of the 2.31million-strong reserve force. Some complained that they wasted time on pointless exercises and lectures during the conversion.

The new system will be tested on around 15,000 reservists in the first three quarters of this year and checked for continuation in the fourth quarter.

The armed forces of Taiwan and Ukraine are both undermanned and underarmed compared to their massive neighbors.

Tsai has championed the concept of “asymmetric warfare” to make the military more mobile, less vulnerable and better able to survive and fight back in a war while Beijing ramps up its threats against the island.

Reservists are part of this plan.

The Department of Defense has heavily promoted the new program on its social media channels, showing images of reservists conducting 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 committees, told Reuters the Russian invasion of Ukraine has made many Taiwanese more determined to defend the island and public support for reservist training reform and civil defense strengthened.

“In the past, before Ukraine, we were labeled as alarmists when we made this effort. That’s no longer the case,” he said.

“Like Ukraine, I believe we have a very strong will to defend our country.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee; Editing by William Mallard) The war in Ukraine is giving new impetus to Taiwan’s military reserve reforms

Bobby Allyn

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