Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
January 20, 2023
The last time Taiwan was engulfed by war was “On May 31, 1945, 117 American B-24 Liberator heavy bombers carpet-bombed Japanese-held Taipei, known then as Taihouku. From 10 a.m. to about 1 p.m., American aircraft dropped some 3,800 bombs on the city, killing an estimated 3,000 people and wounding and displacing more than 10,000 others.” Beginning in late 1944, US planes — usually 20 or 30 at a time — would fly over twice a day. But something was different on the morning of May 31, 1945, when “the entire sky had turned white” with hundreds of B-24 bombers that had arrived to wreak havoc on Taipei. Despite efforts to avoid civilian casualties, many civilian installations were bombed, including Taihoku Prefectural Taihoku First Girls’ High School, Huashan Catholic Church of Taihoku, and the Lungshan Temple of Manka. Then-Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Fleet, described the bombing as a day that “achieved good destruction.”
The current tension over the Taiwan Strait is caused by many factors, but none calls for a hard battle in the island of Taiwan. Based on the lessons learned from the on-going war in Ukraine, a war in Taiwan will be extremely destructive for Taiwan and the global economy. There will be no winner!
Taiwan has become the major contentious issue between the US and China. But both Beijing and Taipei have vowed to avoid war: “No one wants war!” The US, instead of arming Taiwan to the teeth, should take proactive actions facilitating peaceful negotiations between Beijing and Taipei.
Taiwan’s main challenge is not the conscripts “feel unprepared for potential China conflict.” Rather because the public does not share some politicians’ hardline approach toward Beijing as Taiwan enjoys annual cross-strait trade imbalance in the order of US$200B. If Beijing decides to cutoff trades with Taiwan, Taiwan’s economy will collapse instantly, there is no need of any hand-to-hand combats in Taiwan.
‘If war breaks out … I will just become cannon fodder:’ In Taiwan, ex-conscripts feel unprepared for potential China conflict
By Eric Cheung, CNN Updated 8:36 PM EST, Fri January 20, 2023
Taipei, TaiwanCNN —
Rising concerns over increasingly aggressive military maneuvers by China have prompted Taiwan to extend the mandatory military service period most of its young men must serve. But former conscripts interviewed by CNN say Taipei will need to do far more than that if it is to make the training effective.
Outdated, boring and impractical. That was the verdict of six young men who spoke to CNN about their recent experiences of mandatory service in Taiwan’s military.
They describe a process that was designed decades ago with a heavy emphasis on bayonet training, but lacking instruction in urban warfare strategies or modern weapons like drones. Some say there were too few rifles to go around, or that the weapons they trained with were too old to be of use. Others recount “specializing” in cannon, grenade and mortar units, but never receiving any ammunition to train with.
Their criticisms come at a crucial time for Taiwan’s military. President Tsai Ing-wen announced recently that the period of mandatory service for men born in or after 2005 will be extended from four months to a year, saying that the present system “no longer suits the needs” of the island’s defense.
Strengthening the island’s military has become a key concern for Tsai, who has spoken of the need to highlight Taiwan’s determination to defend itself amid increasingly aggressive noises from Beijing. “No one wants war,” Tsai said in announcing the lengthening of mandatory service periods in December. “This is true of Taiwan’s government and people, and the global community, but peace does not come from the sky, and Taiwan is at the front lines of the expansion of authoritarianism.”
‘I only shot 40 rounds’
Tsai herself has acknowledged that many citizens feel serving in the military is “just a waste of time.”
“A lot of those assault rifles were made many decades ago, and many were too worn out to be used in training. The weapons had to be rotated among ourselves.”
Paul Lee, a factory manager from Taipei who served in 2018, had a similar experience. “I’m concerned that many people who underwent the training with me won’t even be able to operate a rifle with confidence.”
Adam Yu, a 27-year-old designer from the northern Keelung city who served in 2018 and specialized in mortars and grenade launchers, said while he had been shown how to prepare the weapons, he had never been given any ammunition or practiced firing them.
“I’m not sure if I can even operate those weapons,” said Yu, adding, “I still don’t know
Taiwan has a professional volunteer military force that as of last year was made up of 162,000 full-time troops, according to a report by the Legislative Yuan. On top of this, an estimated 70,000 men complete a period of mandatory military service every year.
Conscripts must undergo a period of physical training and are taught to shoot rifles and use bayonets.
“I think bayonet training was just a waste of time, because I really couldn’t think how we could put that into practice,” Frank Liu said.
Some of these criticisms were acknowledged, tacitly or otherwise, when Tsai announced the lengthening of the conscription period and in the subsequent news briefing by the Defense Ministry in early January.
Su Tzu-yun, a director of Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research, which is funded by the government, said he is confident the reform will boost the island’s combat capabilities.
Su added that while modern weapons will be included in the new training curriculum, it would be impractical for every soldier to practice firing them because this would simply be too costly.
Even so, not everyone’s convinced.
“I don’t think the lengthening of service alone will lead to better national defense,” said Lin Ying-yu, an assistant professor at Tamkang University’s Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies.
He said the “more important questions” involved clarifying in detail the type of training new conscripts would receive.
The fear for conscripts is that the new form of mandatory service might end up looking pretty much like the old form, only longer.
“During my service, most of the time we were just asked to perform tedious tasks like moving weapons around to show our commanders, and we spent a lot of time waiting,” said Dennis, the engineer.
“If the public decides our home is not worth fighting for – or that we don’t stand a chance – then you can have the most professional military and it will still be too little too late.”