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With eye on China, Taiwan issues its first war survival handbook

Officials on the island, which Beijing has said it might take by force, say they hope to raise civic awareness of how to respond to emergency situations before they occur.
Taiwan Army Military Training
Taiwanese soldiers during a readiness enhancement drill on Jan. 6, 2022.Ceng Shou Yi / NurPhoto via Getty Images file

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s defense ministry released a civil defense handbook on Tuesday in an effort to prepare the public for military conflict with China, a threat that has loomed larger since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The 28-page handbook — the first of its kind the government has released in Taiwan, a self-ruling island that Beijing claims as its territory — provides illustrated information on topics including how to identify different air raid sirens, what to do if water and energy lines are cut, and where to shelter from missiles. Individual localities are encouraged to fill in information specific to their area.

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The handbook aims to raise civic awareness of how to respond to emergency situations before they occur, and provide knowledge on how to survive if they do, according to ministry official Liu Tai-yi.

“We hope the public can make the necessary emergency preparations in ordinary times before they happen, and to know where to shelter from disasters,” Liu said at an online news conference.

The handbook is similar to ones issued by the governments of Sweden and Japan, he added.

Other information provided includes how to treat injuries caused by explosions, how to stem blood flow from injuries, and how to deal with skin burns.

Although work on the handbook began before Russia launched its attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24, its release comes as Taiwanese public conversation turns increasingly toward the threat of Chinese invasion.

Beijing views democratic Taiwan and its population of 23 million as an inalienable part of China and reacts aggressively to any suggestion that Taiwan is its own country. Local polling in Taiwan in recent years has shown an overwhelming majority of the population has no desire to become a part of China.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has vowed to “unify” Taiwan with China, by force if necessary, if Taiwan ever makes a formal declaration of independence. The Chinese military regularly flies jets into Taiwan’s self-identified air defense zone in an effort to wear down Taiwanese security forces, in what analysts have dubbed “gray-zone warfare.”

For some analysts, Tuesday’s publication was not enough.

“By itself this template is insufficient ... Taiwan will require long-term commitment to boost both its civilian preparedness and military capacity,” Wen-Ti Sung, a Taiwan expert at the Australian National University’s Australian Center on China in the World, told NBC News.

Sung nevertheless described the handbook as a “good starting point.”

China and Taiwan have been closely watching the Ukraine conflict for its implications in their own relations, though both assert there are fundamental differences between the two situations. Experts say Beijing has taken notice of the diplomatic support for Ukraine and the strength of international sanctions against Russia, as well as the difficulties Russian forces have experienced on the ground.

That could make China less inclined to take military action against Taiwan, at least for now, said Shin Kawashima, a China scholar at the University of Tokyo.

“China learned that if they don’t really prepare for an invasion, they might not succeed,” Kawashima said at the Japan National Press Club on Monday.

There are no signs that Chinese invasion is imminent, but Taiwan is not taking any chances.

In another sign of Taiwan boosting its military readiness for war, its military earlier on Tuesday launched a surprise aerial drill on its capital, Taipei, to test its defense capabilities and the combat readiness of its operational troops, according to the Ministry of National Defense. The simulated attack involved both military jets and helicopters and took place before sunrise.

The island raised its military alert shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the Ministry of National Defense has set up a dedicated task force to study the efficacy of Ukraine’s war tactics.

Taiwan has also doubled its training program for army reservists to 14 days, and calls are growing for the island’s mandatory military training to be extended from four months to one year.