By Ben Blanchard
TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s main military drills this year will draw on the experiences of the war in Ukraine, focusing on asymmetric and cognitive warfare as well as use of reserves as it practices fighting off a Chinese attack, a top officer said on Wednesday.
Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, has raised its alert level since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, wary that Beijing might make a similar move on the island, though it has reported no signs this is about to happen.
What lessons to learn from the war has been widely debated in Taiwan, and discussed with the United States, according to Taiwan’s defence minister.
Lin Wen-huang, head of the Taiwan defence ministry’s joint operations department, said this year’s Han Kuang exercises, which simulate a Chinese invasion and are Taiwan’s largest annual war games, would “draw on the experience” of the Ukraine war.
“Of course, we will keep a close watch on the Russia-Ukraine war and the movements of the Chinese Communist’s military, and will carry out exercises,” he told reporters. “Taking into account the lessons of the Russia-Ukraine war, the military will continue to forge ahead on improving the use of asymmetric warfare, cognitive warfare, information and electronic warfare operations, and use of reserves and full strength of the nation.”
Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a “special operation” to degrade its military capabilities and root out what it calls dangerous nationalists. Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in an effort to force it to withdraw its forces.
Taiwan has been reforming its reserves to make them more combat effective, a task given more urgency by the Ukraine war.
Cognitive warfare refers to how information can affect morale, something Taiwan says it already faces from China, while asymmetric warfare is about deploying highly mobile and sometimes low-tech weapons that are hard to destroy and can deliver precision attacks.
The United States, Taipei’s most important international backer and arms supplier, has also been watching the strategic fallout for Taiwan from the Ukraine war, and considering how the island should prepare itself for an invasion by China.
Matthew Pottinger, deputy national security advisor during the Trump administration, told a forum organised by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies that Taiwan needs to follow in Ukraine’s footsteps in terms of training snipers and making improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
“And there’s a lot more that the United States should be doing on the ground in Taiwan,” he said, according to a transcript published on Tuesday. “I don’t care if they’re wearing U.S. uniforms or not. They can show up in shower shoes and flip flops and Hawaiian shirts for all I care. They need to be on the ground intensively helping train Taiwan.”
The United States already helps train Taiwanese military personnel, though it is rarely publicised. A small number of U.S. forces are in Taiwan to train with Taiwanese soldiers, President Tsai Ing-wen said in an interview with CNN in October.
China has dismissed any comparisons between Ukraine and Taiwan, saying that Taiwan is a part of China and not an independent country.
China has been stepping up its military pressure against Taiwan over the past two years or so.
Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims and says only the island’s people can decide their future.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle)