Retired Taiwanese businessman Robert Tsao has promised to donate 1 billion Taiwan dollars (£28m; $32m) to create a civilian army to fight against China. In a September press conference in Taipei, Tsao, 74, declared that he sought to train “three million people in three years” with his large donation. Adorned in a bulletproof vest and his new Taiwan identity card, he appeared steadfast in his belief of fending off a possible Chinese attack. Tsao announced that he would “never live to see Taiwan become another Hong Kong.”
Tsao’s actions come as a result of dramatically rising tensions between Taiwan and China. Taiwan views itself as autonomous with democratically-elected leaders and its own constitution. On the other hand, China sees the island as part of its own territory and does not recognise it as independent. Chinese President Xi Jinping has asserted that “reunification” with Taiwan “must be fulfilled” and he has stated to “never promise to renounce use of force.”
Tsao is a well-known known entrepreneur behind United Microelectronics Corporation, Taiwan’s first privately owned chipmaker. Whilst Tsao was once an advocate of Taiwanese reunification with China, his stance has taken a 180° turn. Speaking to Radio Free Asia, he made clear that he had changed his mind after witnessing China’s reaction to Hong Kong’s peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations and the atrocities committed against the Uyghur population. In an interview with Bloomberg, Tsao has said that “[T]he Chinese Communist Party’s threats have only ignited among the Taiwanese people a bitter hatred against this threatening enemy, and a shared determination to resist.”
Tsao’s funds aim to be used for “warrior” training in preparation against China’s potential looming threat. Speaking to the Financial Times, Tsao stated that “[w]hat I want to do is ensure quickly, within two or three years, that nobody is afraid, and that we are all ready to resist.” He is notably supporting the Kuma Academy, a grassroots training organisation focusing on self-defence, guerrilla warfare tactics and first-aid skills. “This goal is ambitious, and the challenge is daunting, but Taiwan has no time to hesitate,” the academy reported. “If we can successfully resist China’s ambitions, we not only will be able to safeguard our homeland but make a big contribution to the world situation and the development of civilisation,” Tsao added.
Fears have sharply escalated, particularly since U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan on August the 2nd which the CCP criticised as “extremely dangerous.” In retaliation, China’s military employed live-fire exercise drills including missiles, planes and warships to intimidate Taiwan. World leaders have responded to these aggressive actions, with Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida labelling them as a “grave problem” and the White House denouncing them as “irresponsible.” After these drills, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen proclaimed that Taiwan would not instigate conflict but would strongly defend its autonomy and national security: “Taiwan will never be knocked down by challenges.”
For Taiwanese civilians, the threat from China is concerning and watching the tragic events unfold in Ukraine has further fuelled anxieties. Many fear that President Xi Jinping may imitate the Russian invasion of a territory it considers its own. Some analysts also worry that the US may wage war with China over Taiwanese independence. For decades, the US has operated through a policy of strategic ambiguity, carefully balancing helping Taiwan whilst preventing a Chinese conflict. Yet Joe Biden has since rejected this policy, announcing that the US will support Taiwan if China attacks.
A military confrontation will have disastrous consequences for all parties. China’s military forces overshadow those of Taiwan’s, even with Tsao’s contributions. If conflict ensues, it may accelerate into a devastating nuclear exchange. To avoid this, all three governments must not provoke one another into engaging in a military attack. This does not necessarily mean appeasing China in taking over Taiwan, but instead condemning the CCP and enacting non-combative strategies. This may include political deliberation, sanctions, cyber operations, outreach programmes or spurring a global movement that vehemently deplores Chinese aggression. The international community should stand in solidarity with Taiwan, but this needs to be done whilst remaining on peaceful terms with China. The CCP’s possible use of military force is indeed harrowing, and only time will tell if peace can be established in the region.
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