Taiwan residents seek gun training as Ukraine war drives homes threat from CCP
From tour guides to tattoo artists, some denizens of Taiwan are taking shooting lessons for the first time in their lives as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine increases anxiety over the prospect of the Chinese military making a similar move on the democratic island.
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’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 defenses in Taiwan, which is weighing whether to extend compulsory military service.
Since the war in Ukraine started in February 2022, bookings have nearly quadrupled for lessons in firing airsoft guns, or low-power devices designed to shoot nonmetallic projectiles, said an official of a combat skills training company in Taiwan.
“More and more people are coming to take part,” said Max Chiang, chief executive of Polar Light, which is based in a Taipei suburb.
Some of those who came to the shooting range in 2022 had not handled guns before, he said, adding that participants had “tripled or quadrupled” since the start of the Ukraine conflict. Some in Taiwan fear that the CCP, which has never ruled out using force to take control of the island, may ramp up the pressure as nations worldwide focus on supporting and equipping Ukraine in its response to Moscow.
Taiwan has raised its alert level but has reported no unusual military movements by Beijing.
Those preparing against a threat from the CCP include Su Chun, a 39-year-old tattoo artist who was determined to learn how to use air guns. “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.
Gun training would be useful if the government called up reservists like himself to repulse a Chinese invasion, Su added. “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.”
Use of airsoft guns, popular for military simulation, is taught as a competitive 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 fire less-dangerous projectiles, such as small plastic balls, at targets. (Pictured: Trainees practice target shooting with airsoft guns during a lesson at a Taiwan shooting range in May 2022.)
At the Taipei shooting range on a recent 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 the People’s Republic of China. “It made us think how we should prepare ourselves if that happens in Taiwan.”
The couple had assembled protective gear at home, ranging from pepper spray to an alarm system for intruders, he added.
In addition to the gun training, some politicians in Taiwan have urged the public to develop survival plans in the event cities are without electricity and water for extended periods.
Lin Ping-yu, of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said the Ukraine war prompted him to prepare survival kits for his family, complete with emergency food supplies and batteries, in case of an invasion.
“Think about how you can help yourself and others survive,” added Lin, who wrote a book about the CCP’s military threat. “We are facing enormous risks. Risks of losing freedom and democracy, of losing everything in our daily life.”
IMAGE CREDIT: REUTERS