(p. A1) TAIPEI, Taiwan—People in Taiwan have been following every twist of the war in Ukraine. But, while their sympathy for the Ukrainian cause is near-universal, the conclusions for the island’s own future widely diverge.
To some, the takeaway is that even a seemingly invincible foe can be defeated if a society stands firm, an inspiration for Taiwan’s own effort to resist a feared invasion by China. Others draw the opposite lesson from the images of smoldering Ukrainian cities. Anything is better than war, they say, and Taiwan should do all it can to avoid provoking Beijing’s wrath, even if that means painful compromises.
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(p. A8) “The young people are the ones who don’t want unification with China,” said ret. Lt. Gen. Chang Yan-ting, a former deputy commander of Taiwan’s air force. “But if you want independence, you need to fight, and they also don’t want to fight. Therein is the conflict.”
Yi-hao, a student in Taiwan’s National Defense University, was an exception. “Before the war in Ukraine, we were taught that Russia’s military power is stronger than China’s, and Taiwan’s military was stronger than Ukraine’s,” he said. “If they were able to resist this long, Taiwan will definitely be able to hold out.” He didn’t want his surname used because he wasn’t authorized by the military to speak.
Lai Yi-chi, who became a lieutenant after graduating from the Naval Academy in June , said that she had been inspired by the bravery and resilience of Ukrainian soldiers, something often discussed in her classes. “We should also embody such spirit and determination,” she said.
Bypassing the official armed forces, some volunteer groups have decided to act on their own, preparing fellow citizens for a possible war. One such group is Kuma Academy, which received a $100 million donation from Robert Tsao, the founder of the United Microelectronics, one of the world’s biggest semiconductor companies.
“We don’t intend to build up a private army,” Tsao said. “But I think their effort will probably increase the resilience of Taiwan’s society. If we know how to hide, how to help each other, how to retain communication, we can pretty much reduce the damage in wartime.” Some of the students also like to learn more martial skills, such as shooting, Tsao said, but Taiwan’s strict gun laws make it difficult. Some 25,000 Taiwanese have been trained at Kuma.
Nico Li, a 60-year-old retired musician attending a Kuma class, said she was unnerved by growing risks coming from China, and wanted to arm herself to avoid being a burden to her children. “Taiwan is an island of treasure. I don’t want to hand it over to others without a fight,” Li said, referring to what she sees as the Taiwanese values of freedom and democracy. “If I have the ability, I would even go and fetch a gun if necessary.”
At another training session, run by the Forward Alliance, dozens of Taiwanese practiced how to stop arterial bleeding with tourniquets and stabilize major wounds. “There is a sense of impending doom, of feeling very hopeless,” said one of the students, Eric Lin. “So, instead of sitting at home and browsing the negative news, I wanted to come here—so that I would be able to do something.”
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 5, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)