Taiwan says China is a ‘bully’ after one of the largest PLA warplane incursions yet

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Taipei, Taiwan (CNN) Taiwan on Thursday accused China of “bullying” after Beijing sent a total of 24 warplanes into its air defense identification zone (ADIZ), the third-largest incursion in the past two years of heightened tensions between Beijing and Taipei.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft, including bombers, fighter jets, anti-submarine planes and airborne early warning and control planes, entered Taiwan’s ADIZ in two groups – one of 19 planes and a second cohort of five jets that came later in the day.

A map released by Taiwan’s Defense Ministry showed some Chinese aircraft, including H-6 bombers, flying around the southern part of Taiwan, and angling up to the island’s east.

19 PLA aircraft (J-1612, Y-8 ASW2, H-62, Y-8 EW and J-112) entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ in the morning of September 23, 2021. Please check our official website for more information: https://t.co/c5EJJFhzKL pic.twitter.com/81fIdFbWFI — 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) September 23, 2021

5 PLA aircraft (J-162, KJ-500 AEW&C and J-112) entered #Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ in the afternoon of September 23, 2021. Please check our official website for more information: https://t.co/dnE5VagCye pic.twitter.com/GiQEnVdTZM — 國防部 Ministry of National Defense, R.O.C. 🇹🇼 (@MoNDefense) September 23, 2021

In response, the ministry said radio warnings were issued and air defense missile systems were deployed to monitor the activity.

The incursions did not violate Taiwan’s sovereign airspace, which extends 12 nautical miles from its coast. The US Federal Aviation Administration defines an ADIZ as “a designated area of airspace over land or water within which a country requires the immediate and positive identification, location and air traffic control of aircraft in the interest of the country’s national security.”

Taiwan opposition party’s new leader pledges renewed talks with China

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Eric Chu speaks to members of the media after winning the chairmanship of Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang Party (KMT), in Taipei, Taiwan, September 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang

TAIPEI, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Taiwan’s main opposition party elected former leader Eric Chu as its chairman on Saturday with a pledge to renew stalled talks with China, which has ramped up military and political pressure against the island Beijing claims as its own territory.

Chu, 60, a former mayor of New Taipei City, beat Kuomintang (KMT) incumbent Johnny Chiang and two other contenders in the chairmanship election, though he will not take over immediately.

The KMT was trounced in presidential and parliamentary elections last year, having failed to cast off the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) accusations a vote for them was no more than a vote for China.

Speaking after his victory, Chu said when it came to policy in relation to China his party would not become a “little” version of the DPP, which Beijing refuses to deal with believing they are separatists.

“We will re-build cross-Taiwan Strait exchange platforms and communication channels,” he said.

The KMT ruled China until fleeing to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists. It traditionally favours close ties with Beijing, which has increasingly set it at odds with many Taiwanese.

High-level KMT contact with China’s Communist Party stalled during Chiang’s 17-month tenure amid increased pressure by China against Taiwan and suspicion in Beijing that the party was not sufficiently committed to accepting the island as part of “one China”.

Chu met President Xi Jinping in Beijing in 2015, where he acknowledged that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are part of “one China” but they have different interpretations what this means.

The urbane, U.S.-educated Chu previously led the KMT until resigning in 2016 after he was defeated in Taiwan’s presidential election by current President Tsai Ing-wen.

Deep disagreements remain in the KMT about its direction following its electoral defeat last year, and Chu pledged “unprecedented unity” under his leadership.

Taiwan will hold mayoral elections next year which, while mostly focusing on local issues, will be an important measure of support ahead of the 2024 presidential vote.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Mike Harrison

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Second line of defence: Taiwan’s civilians train to resist invasion

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On a quiet workday morning last week, air raid sirens rang out across Taiwan. The eerie wailing horn would be the first warning to the island’s 23.5 million residents of an incoming attack by their neighbour across the Taiwan Strait, the People’s Republic of China.

On the streets of the capital, Taipei, people carried on with their day, just as they did when an earthquake drill on Friday told them to “stop, drop and hide” in mass text alerts, and just as they do when China sends dozens of air force planes screeching towards Taiwan.

The world is becoming increasingly familiar with Beijing’s claim over Taiwan as a breakaway province, and its pledge to one day “unify”, by force if necessary. Taiwan’s population has lived with the threat day in and day out, but as the danger grows, experts warn the public is not ready.

Analysts say China is closer to being capable of invading Taiwan than it has been in decades, but is not there yet. The potential nature and timing of any conflict is hotly debated, as is the involvement of other countries in support of Taiwan. But after decades of Chinese military modernisation, and significant uptick in aggressive or intimidatory acts in the last 18 months, there are growing concerns about Taiwan’s ability to defend itself.

“We have about 160,000 folks in uniform facing a military that now claims to be 2 million strong,” says Enoch Wu, a Taiwanese former banker and special forces soldier, and founder of Forward Alliance, which advocates for greater awareness of defence issues and national security.

“They have a signifiant role in the mission, but behind that we need a layered depth of responders who can really make sure that our defences are as strong as possible, so we can prevent military action.”

Wu, a rising figure in the governing Democratic Progressive party, has developed a pilot of resilience training for civilians. Run by Forward Alliance, and supported by first responder groups and the US’s unofficial presence in Taiwan, the American Institute, two workshops have so far hosted about 120 civilians each.

Participants learn about situational awareness and personal safety, and hear from professional soldiers, first responders, and humanitarian workers about their experience on the battlefield or in crisis situations. After a basic first aid workshop – focused mostly on serious hemorrhagic injuries – it’s all put into practice in a mass casualty simulation.

Members of the public take part in resilience training in Taiwan. Photograph: Forward Alliance/American Institute in Taiwan

“There are [staged] injuries, aggressors, things are chaotic, you don’t know who is who, and it forces our teams to operate and deescalate the situation, keep people safe, and be helpful,” says Wu. “[They learn that] it’s the person next to you that’s going to matter most, and you are an actor and you have a choice and you can make a difference in these situations.”

Wu says the resilience workshops are not just about prepping for a military attack, listing Taiwan’s frequent earthquakes, industrial accidents, typhoons, and the recent deadly train crash in Hualien as far more likely reasons to need a crisis-trained society.

But it’s military conflict that people are most focused on. This month the US, Australia and the UK announced a new security partnership, Aukus, aimed at countering China, just days before Australian and US foreign ministers pledged to “strengthen ties” with their “critical partner”, Taiwan. The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, refused to rule out getting involved in a conflict over Taiwan.

Taiwan’s government, under the current president, Tsai Ing-wen, says it doesn’t seek conflict. It maintains that Taiwan is already a sovereign nation with no need to declare independence. But that position is irreconcilable with Beijing’s aims.

How to fend off a takeover

According to Admiral Lee Hsi-Ming, Taiwan’s former navy head and deputy defence minister, the first day of a hypothetical invasion attempt by China might involve cyber-attacks and long-range missiles hitting targets across the island including Taipei, paralysing Taiwan’s air force and navy, and destroying its control over the sea and air. It’s a dramatic scenario that Lee says Taiwan has little chance of preventing. But it’s only step one. “You can’t compete with a long-range missile attack, but if you want political control you must send ground troops.”

This is where Taiwan can fend off a complete takeover, says Lee, or – ideally – be so prepared for one that it serves as a deterrent. But were an invasion to happen, first responders would be overwhelmed, and Wu says a resilient population with key first aid and emergency skills could make the difference between life and death.

Tanks are deployed to carry out a shore defence operation as part of a military exercise in Taiwan. Photograph: Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/Zuma/Rex/Shutterstock

“After our professional first responders we need a general population that is prepared at the basic level to be capable of helping themselves and each other and their communities and who won’t fall apart after first impact,” says Wu. “That’s critical in any emergency, especially in war.”

Wu has also called for massive improvements to Taiwan’s system of air raid shelters, which at the moment are primarily sites such as underground car parks with no added facilities or emergency supplies.

‘I wouldn’t know what to do’

Much of Taiwan’s population already has some basic training – military conscription ran for decades. But under plans to phase in fully voluntary armed forces, it has been reduced to a four months basic training course, which is often derided as a “summer camp”. Despite annual budget increases, the military at large has also been described as dysfunctional and “in crisis”. One 2018 graduate of the four-month course, surnamed Chen, tells the Guardian that despite the training, if war were to break out today, “I wouldn’t know what to do.”

Chen, who didn’t want to publish his full name, says rifle drills used outdated weapons, and he wasn’t taught any first aid. “Combat strategies and guerrilla warfare are what I’m interested in learning – if there was training in this, I would go learn it with my own money.”

Wu says, diplomatically, there are improvements to be made to the government’s training, but the resilience workshops are about “everybody else”.

First held in August 2020 and March 2021, the workshops were supposed to run monthly, until the pandemic got in the way. But Wu hopes that they will eventually roll out across Taiwan. “Without a resilient population, which has that will to persist and resist and fight on, folks on the frontline would be left out to dry.”