More seek gun training in Taiwan as Ukraine war drives home China threat

1/6/2022 6:00:00 PM

More seek gun training in Taiwan as Ukraine war drives home China threat

Taiwan, China

More seek gun training in Taiwan as Ukraine war drives home China threat

TAIPEI — From tour guides to tattoo artists, some in Taiwan are taking shooting lessons for the first time in their lives as Russia 's invasion of Ukraine ratchets up anxiety at the prospect of giant neighbour China making a similar move on the democratic island.

Some of those who came to the shooting range this year had not handled guns before, he said, adding that numbers had"tripled or quadrupled" since the start of the Ukraine conflict, which Moscow calls a"special military operation".Those preparing against a threat from China include Mr Su Chun, a 39-year-old tattoo artist who was determined to learn how to use air guns.

"Most people don't want to go to war, I also don't want to go to war, but in the unfortunate event of this really happening, I will be mentally prepared."At the Taipei shooting range one Sunday afternoon, dozens of students picked up air guns for the first time as trainers explained safety guidelines and basic details.

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China's growing military pressure on the island it claims as its own, combined with the conflict in Ukraine, has spurred debate about how to boost defences in Taiwan, which is weighing whether to extend compulsory military service.Taiwan's defence ministry said late Monday (May 30) it had scrambled its own aircraft and deployed air defence missile systems to monitor the latest Chinese activity.Taiwan Air Force's F-16 fighter jets fly during the annual Han Kuang military exercise at an army base in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan, on July 4, 2015."collusion" between Washington and Taipei.

Since the war in Ukraine started three months ago, bookings have nearly quadrupled for lessons in how to shoot airsoft guns, or low-power devices designed to shoot non-metallic projectiles, said an official of a combat skills training company in Taiwan. "More and more people are coming to take part," said Mr Max Chiang, chief executive of Polar Light, which is based in a suburb of the capital, Taipei. Self-ruled democratic Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by China, which views the island as its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary. Some of those who came to the shooting range this year had not handled guns before, he said, adding that numbers had"tripled or quadrupled" since the start of the Ukraine conflict, which Moscow calls a"special military operation". Taiwan calls China's repeated nearby military activities "grey zone" warfare, designed to both wear out Taiwan's forces by making them repeatedly scramble, and also to test Taiwan's responses. Some in Taiwan fear that China, which has never ruled out using force to bring the island under its control, may ramp up the pressure, taking advantage of a West distracted by efforts to support and equip Ukraine in its response to Moscow. Mr Blinken's remarks came after United States (US) President Joe Biden appeared to break decades of US policy when in response to a question on a visit to Japan he said Washington would defend Taiwan militarily if it is attacked by China. Taiwan has raised its alert level but has reported no unusual military movements by Beijing. In a statement, the People's Liberation Army Eastern Theatre Command said the combat"readiness patrol" had happened around Taiwan in recent days and was"a necessary action against US-Taiwan collusion".

Those preparing against a threat from China include Mr Su Chun, a 39-year-old tattoo artist who was determined to learn how to use air guns. Monday's incursion was the largest since Jan 23, when 39 planes entered the air defence identification zone, or ADIZ. Taiwan sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them, the ministry said. "I wanted to learn some combat skills, including those that are not just limited to using a gun. Maybe skills to be able to react to any kind of situation," he said. A flight map provided by the Taiwanese defence ministry showed the planes entered the southwestern corner of the ADIZ before they looping back out again. But gun training would be useful if the government called up reservists like himself to repulse a Chinese invasion, Mr Su added. China's military said last week it had recently conducted an exercise around Taiwan as a "solemn warning" against its "collusion" with the US. "Most people don't want to go to war, I also don't want to go to war, but in the unfortunate event of this really happening, I will be mentally prepared. The most number of aircraft China has sent in a single day was 56 on October 4, 2021. Taiwan has complained repeatedly of such missions in its Air Defence Identification Zone, or ADIZ.

" Use of airsoft guns, popular for military simulation, is taught as a competition sport in Taiwan, which tightly controls gun ownership, but many of the movements and tactics involved resemble combat skills, from shooting posture to aiming. The devices use compressed air to carry less dangerous projectiles, such as small plastic balls, to their targets. So far in 2022 Taiwan has reported 465 incursions, a near 50 percent increase on the same period last year. Taiwan's government says it wants peace but will defend itself if attacked. At the Taipei shooting range one Sunday afternoon, dozens of students picked up air guns for the first time as trainers explained safety guidelines and basic details. There was an"urgent" need to learn more about defensive weapons after the war in Ukraine, said tour guide Chang Yu, who attended the entry-level course with his wife. "The Ukraine-Russia war has made the threat from across the Strait real," said the 34-year-old clad in bullet belt and goggles, referring to the waterway between Taiwan and China.

"It made us think how we should prepare ourselves if that happens in Taiwan." The couple had assembled protective gear at home, from pepper spray to an alarm system for intruders, he added. Reuters Personal trainer, Mr Chris Chen, prepares his airsoft gun during an airsoft gun shooting lesson at the shooting range of the combat skill training company Polar Light, in New Taipei City, Taiwan on May 21, 2022. Reuters Personal trainer, Mr Chris Chen, poses with an airsoft gun during an airsoft gun shooting lesson at the shooting range of the combat skill training company Polar Light, in New Taipei City, Taiwan on May 21, 2022. Reuters Trainees practice target shooting with their airsoft guns during an airsoft gun shooting lesson at the shooting range of the combat skill training company Polar Light, in New Taipei City, Taiwan on May 21, 2022.

Reuters A female trainee aims her airsoft handgun during target practice at a basic airsoft shooting class at the shooting range of the combat skill training company Polar Light, in New Taipei City, Taiwan on May 29, 2022. Reuters "Taiwan spirit, world Number 1" is seen written on the flag of Taiwan on the backpack of a trainee during an airsoft gun shooting lesson at the shooting range of the combat skill training company Polar Light, in New Taipei City, Taiwan on May 21, 2022. Reuters Trainees listen to their trainer about what to be alert for when entering a building, during an airsoft gun training lesson, at the shooting range of the combat skill training company Polar Light, in New Taipei City, Taiwan on May 22, 2022. Besides the gun training, some politicians in Taiwan have urged the public to start thinking about survival plans for a time when most cities are without electricity and water supplies for days. Mr Lin Ping-yu of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, who is running for a council seat, said the Ukraine war had prompted him to prepare survival kits for his family, complete with emergency food supplies and batteries, in case of the worst.

"Think about how you can help yourself and others survive," added Mr Lin, the author of a book about the military threat from China. "We are facing enormous risks. Risks of losing freedom and democracy, of losing everything in our daily life." REUTERS Related topics .