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Civil defense rising in popularity in Taiwan as Russian invasion of Ukraine continues

An example are the workshops on trauma medicine held by Forward Alliance, a disaster preparedness NGO. Even though it offers 15 workshops a month, Forward Alliance said its April sessions were running at full capacity.

The flag of Taiwan, known officially as the Republic of China
The flag of Taiwan, known officially as the Republic of China | jitcji/Wikimedia Commons

April 29, 2022 9:07am

Updated: April 29, 2022 9:52am

Courses and resources for civil defense have seen a resurgence in interest as Taiwanese follow the invasion of Ukraine closely.  

An example are the workshops on trauma medicine held by Forward Alliance, a disaster preparedness NGO. Al Jazeera observed one session where civilians took turns wrapping each other in homemade stretchers and learned how to pack a gunshot wound.

“It’s not inspiration per se, but what happened in Ukraine kind of gave us an alert that we probably need to learn about what to do in an emergency,” Wei-lin Tseng, a Taipei-based professional, told Al Jazeera after the workshop.

“I think it’s motivation, and it’s also good to know techniques, so you can help others.”

Even though it offers 15 workshops a month, Forward Alliance said its April sessions were running at full capacity and that it planned to expand its offerings in the future.

Beijing has promised to reunify China and Taiwan, and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its former Soviet peer Ukraine has reminded many Taiwanese of the potential of armed conflict.

However, joining the military is unpopular amongst Taiwanese residents due to its association with the island’s previous authoritarian government.

Popular opinion shifted after the outbreak of the Ukraine war. A recent poll found that Taiwan’s residents were almost twice as likely to say they were willing to go to war to defend the island against China compared to before the Ukraine war, from 40.3% in December to 70.2% in March.

The poll also found that almost 70% of respondents supported extending the country’s mandatory military service from four months to a full year.

Tao Ham, co-founder of the Taiwan Pangolin Civil Defense Association, told Al Jazeera has seen a resurgence in interest for not just his group, but also local air pistol ranges, one of the few places one can practice with a firearm outside the military.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense and the civil society group Watch Out each released a guidebook on civic defense this month, similar to ones released by the governments of Sweden and Lithuania.

The ministry’s guidebook covers basic common-sense skills and procedures for emergencies, but Watch Out’s lengthier booklet covers for details, like how to respond to a terrorist attack, distinguish between the uniforms and vehicles of Taiwan’s military and China’s People’s Liberation Army, and the dangers of fake news and misinformation claiming Taiwan has “surrendered.”