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Inspired by Ukraine, civilians in Taiwan are studying urban warfare – Top Stories News – Report by AFR

Dressed in military camouflage and armed with an assault rifle, “Prof” Yeh peers from behind a vehicle in a parking lot outside of Taipei, scans the area, and waits for a signal to advance.

Yeh actually works in marketing, and his weapon is a replica – but he’s spending the weekend attending an urban warfare workshop to prepare for what he sees as the very real threat of a Chinese invasion.

“The Russia-Ukraine war is an important reason why I came to this workshop,” Yeh, 47, whose call sign is “Prof” during the training, tells AFP during a break between sessions.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine in late February, he gave shape to many Taiwanese’s darkest fears.

The self-governing democracy lives under constant threat from authoritarian China, which considers the island part of its territory and has pledged to one day take it.

But Yeh was also inspired by the war in Ukraine.

The resilience of Ukraine’s armed forces has given him hope that with the right tactics, Taiwan might also have a chance of defending itself against its much more powerful neighbor.

He’s not alone — organizers of the City Combat Course say their student numbers have nearly quadrupled since February. Firearms and first aid courses also saw an increase in enrollments.

– ‘feeling of crisis’ –

Long before the Russian invasion, unrest was brewing in Taiwan over China.

Max Chiang, CEO of the company organizing the workshops, says there has been an “increased sense of crisis” among the Taiwanese since 2020, when Chinese warplanes began regularly invading the island’s air identification zone.

Around 380 sorties were recorded this year – a number that has more than doubled in 2021 and is on track to do so again this year, according to an AFP database.

According to the US Department of Defense, China vastly outnumbers Taiwan militarily, with over a million ground troops to Taiwan’s 88,000, 6,300 tanks to Taiwan’s 800, and 1,600 warplanes to Taiwan’s 400.

But Ukraine has provided a practical blueprint for how to reduce this inequality.

It has vividly demonstrated how difficult and costly fighting for control of cities can be for invading forces — and most of Taiwan’s 23 million people live in urban areas.

As Yeh and his 15 teammates race across the parking lot in staggered columns, leaning behind derelict buildings and vehicles to simulate assaults on enemy positions, they try to put into practice some of the lessons learned from Ukraine’s devastated cities.

“The best defense is offense,” Yeh insists, while instructors in light-colored safety vests stand by and take notes.

“To put it bluntly, destroy the enemy and stop any enemy advance.”

– ‘Determination of the people’ –

In a warehouse off the parking lot, 34-year-old Ruth Lam learns to fire a pistol for the first time.

Lam, who works at a manufacturer of emergency vehicle lighting, said most of her European customers told her there would be no war in Ukraine.

“But it happened,” she says.

She hopes that knowing how to use a gun could protect her and her family in war and plans to continue target practice with friends.

“Prepare your umbrella before it rains,” she says. “We don’t know when things are going to happen.”

In a poll conducted in May, 61.4 percent of respondents said they would take up arms in the event of an invasion.

“The will of the Ukrainian people to fight against aggressors has strengthened the resolve of the Taiwanese to protect their homeland,” Chen Kuan-ting, CEO of Taiwan think tank NextGen Foundation, told AFP.

Lin Ping-yu, a former paratrooper who got into the urban warfare class “to brush up on his combat skills,” agrees.

“Only when the citizens of a country have the strong will and determination to protect their country can they convince the international community to help them,” says the 38-year-old.

Yeh believes the question is when, not if, they will be called upon to put their new skills into action.

Using the example of Hong Kong, where Beijing has tried to consolidate its power in recent years, he says simply: “Taiwan is next.”

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