Taiwan tycoon to fund 3.3 million-strong army of ‘civilian warriors’ to defend against invasion. Source: The Guardian

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Taiwan tycoon to fund 3.3 million-strong army of ‘civilian warriors’ to defend against invasion

Robert Tsao, a microchip entrepreneur, pledges $32m to train and equip civil defence force to combat threat of Chinese attack

United Microelectronics founder Robert Tsao in a bulletproof vest he wore while announcing his plans for a civil defence force in Taiwan

United Microelectronics founder Robert Tsao, centre, after announcing his plans for a civil defence force in Taiwan. Photograph: Ritchie B Tongo/EPA

Helen Davidson in Taipei

@heldavidsonFri 2 Sep 2022 06.38 BST Last modified on Fri 2 Sep 2022 18.35 BST

A Taiwanese tycoon has announced his plan to train 3.3 million “civilian warriors” and marksmen to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, using one billion Taiwan dollars ($32m) of his own money.

The announcement by Robert Tsao, a well-known Taiwanese businessman and founder of United Microelectronics Corp, a major microchip producer, comes amid increasing military activity between Taiwan and China. On Thursday Taiwan’s defence ministry announced its soldiers had shot down a Chinese drone over Taiwan’s Kinmen islands.

At a press conference on Thursday, Tsao, 75, said the Chinese Communist party (CCP) threat to Taiwan was growing. Wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet, he pledged funds to train “three million people in three years”. Working with the island’s civilian defence organisation, the Kuma Academy, 60% of the funds would go towards building an army of “warriors”, and 40% to training another 300,000 in how to shoot.

Beachgoers this month in Xiamen, China, just across the waters from Taiwan's Kinmen islands

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“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,” he said.

Tsao was formerly an active supporter of unifying Taiwan with China, and had renounced his Taiwanese citizenship in protest against a government investigation of his company. However, he told Radio Free Asia that he had a change of heart after witnessing the crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, particularly the Yuen Long MTR attack. On Thursday he also announced he had renounced his Singaporean citizenship and that his Taiwanese citizenship had been restored and he planned to “die in Taiwan and stand with its people”.

“Given the Chinese Communist party’s record of atrocities against its own people and its brutal domination of those like the Uyghurs who are not even Chinese, the CCP’s threats have only ignited among the Taiwanese people a bitter hatred against this threatening enemy, and a shared determination to resist,” he said, according to Bloomberg.

The Kuma Academy was established in 2021, amid growing desire from Taiwan’s civilian population to be trained in guerrilla warfare, self-defence and first-aid skills. In August it launched a crowdfunding drive, and was approached by Tsao.

“This goal is ambitious and the challenge is daunting, but Taiwan has no time to hesitate,” the academy said in a statement.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, community appetite for civilian training grew but was unanswered by the government, which has focused on building its armed and reservist troops. After moving away from a conscription-based armed forces, Taiwan has struggled to fill positions and maintain an adequate fighting force, which reportedly numbers fewer than 90,000.

Citing the efforts of the British people in the second world war, and Ukrainians against the ongoing Russian invasion, Kuma Academy said the will of Taiwan’s people to resist an invasion would “determine the outcome of the war”.

“War is not a matter for a few people, and defending Taiwan is for every Taiwanese. Everyone has the ability and responsibility to contribute their own strength in the war.”

After the announcement, UMC distanced itself from Tsao, who retired from the company he founded more than 10 years. “He has nothing to do with UMC,” it said.

Tensions between Taiwan and China have risen dramatically in recent months, particularly after a visit to Taiwan by the US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. In response, China’s military surrounded Taiwan with live-fire exercise drills that lasted for several days and included missile tests and multiple crossings of the median line – an unofficial border in the Taiwan Strait which China’s government has recently rejected.

Taiwan’s defence ministry on Thursday said its soldiers had shot down a Chinese drone for the first time. The drone had flown over military posts on Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands, which sit just off the Chinese mainland, and ignored warnings to leave, the ministry said. Taiwan had previously shot flares at repeated drone flights during and after the post-Pelosi drills, but video footage from recent flights over the islands had shown Taiwanese soldiers throwing rocks, prompting some embarrassment.

This week the defence force warned it would shoot down any drones that ignored warnings to leave the airspace, after President Tsai Ing-wen urged “strong countermeasures” against Chinese provocations.

The Chinese drills largely simulated a blockade of Taiwan, interrupting air and sea traffic and impinging on key shipping ports, but on Friday Taiwan’s defence ministry said China’s military was also simulating attacks on US navy ships, aiming to prevent foreign forces from coming to Taiwan’s aid in the event of an attack.

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