TOP STORIES The Looming Threat - The New York Times

The Looming Threat – The New York Times

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Taiwan has been under the threat of invasion for more than seven decades: China views the island as a breakaway part of its territory. In the months since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Taiwanese citizens have begun to view a Chinese invasion as a more serious possibility than ever. My colleague Amy Qin from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, recently reported on how the island is being prepared. I called her to find out more.

Why should an invasion halfway around the world be of concern to the people of Taiwan?

I can’t stress enough how deep-rooted it is in the minds of the Chinese that Taiwan is part of China. Even the most anti-Xi Jinping, anti-Chinese Communist Party, ardent liberal Chinese intellectuals will tell you that Taiwan is part of China. It is very rare to find a person who does not believe in this. It would be as if you told me that Maryland or Florida were not part of the USA. If you look at China’s foreign policy for decades, Taiwan has always been its main issue. Xi, the leader of China, has a particular vision of what he thinks a great China means, and Taiwan is part of it.

People in Taiwan have known about this for a long time, but Ukraine has awakened people here to the idea that what seemed like a distant threat could actually happen. Taiwan and Ukraine are very different, but there are parallels. You have strong leaders who see these territories as the key to their peoples. You have this huge power imbalance in terms of military and territory. After the Russian invasion, it was natural for those present here to make such a comparison.

How did the residents react to this heightened sense of threat?

More and more people are taking matters into their own hands. Taiwan has a strong civil society, and more and more non-governmental organizations are holding so-called civil defense workshops. I recently visited one in Taipei at a stylish co-working space. This organization, Kuma Academy, runs classes on subjects such as first aid and Chinese disinformation. Some 40 people of all backgrounds and ages donated their weekends to listen to lectures on topics like fighting disinformation and learn practical skills like how to use a bandage to stop bleeding. Everyone listened attentively and took notes on their laptops.

How popular are such preparatory events?

Demand has really grown. The founder of another civil defense organization, Forward Alliance, told me that since Russia invaded Ukraine, it has been running 15 to 20 classes a month. Classes are filled within two hours of going online. He said his group trained 1,000 civilians and emergency medical workers. People take their children to learn first aid.

It went beyond first aid. Taiwan has very strict gun laws, but interest in classes that teach people how to shoot has also tripled since the start of the war.

But this is an island of 24 million people, so the people attending these classes don’t necessarily make up a huge percentage of them. That’s why military analysts and former Taiwanese officials believe that training civilians to participate in the defense of the island should be a top-down government initiative. Right now it’s just a patchwork of grassroots NGOs.

You reported that the government wants to involve civilians in strengthening the island’s defenses. How are his efforts going?

The government has said little about how it plans to engage the civilian population more actively. In April, officials released handbook for civilians about what to do if China attacks, and it was instantly criticized. One of the recommendations was to scan the QR code for information if an attack occurs. But many people think that the first thing China will do in the event of an attack is shut down critical infrastructure. People said: “There will be no Internet, so how are we going to scan QR codes?”

The Taiwanese government is trying to see what lessons it can learn from the defense of Ukraine. But Ukraine only really began its most effective military reforms after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. The question is whether Taiwan can make meaningful changes without going through an event like this. Taiwan is a democracy and politicians have electoral considerations. For example, extending the call for military service will probably not be very popular.

We have witnessed the emergence of a strong Ukrainian national identity since Russia invaded Crimea. It only grew during the invasion and seems to be helping to support the Ukrainian forces. Was there something similar in Taiwan?

There is a growing sense of Taiwanese identity, which is defined as being in opposition to China. This is especially noticeable among young people who were born in Taiwan and do not identify as Chinese even if their parents and grandparents were born there. This continues to intensify as China becomes more aggressive.

More about Amy Qin: She grew up in Northern California and studied Chinese politics at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Oxford. Her family is from China’s Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces, where she spent her summers as a child. She previously wrote from Beijing and was one of several Times reporters expelled from China in 2020.

Lives lived: Commentator Mark Shields delighted and annoyed the public with his insightful analysis of America’s political strengths and weaknesses. He died at 85 years old.

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