Taiwan Ex-General Says Soldiers Lack Weapons for China War: 'Are They Supposed to Fight With Brooms?'

A retired Taiwanese army general claims the country's military would be undermanned and ill-equipped for a war with China, questioning in a recent interview: "Are they supposed to fight with brooms?"

Former Republic of China Army Major General Hsiao Tien-liu cast doubt on Taiwan's combat readiness just one week after Minister of National Defense Yen De-fa said the island could mobilize roughly 450,000 troops in the event of a military invasion.

At a committee meeting on October 22, Yen said President Tsai Ing-wen could deploy 185,000 active service members and call up some 260,000 reserves if People's Liberation Army forces crossed the Taiwan Strait.

However, Hsiao, who was head of procurement at the defense ministry's Armaments Bureau, said it would be a "very difficult" task.

In the interview published today by multinational Chinese-language site China Review News Agency, the ex-serviceman said that past experience showed only about 70 percent of reserve forces turned up when summoned for education and training.

Are they supposed to fight with brooms?
Hsiao Tien-liu

"Although a war mobilization order would be enforced, the military lacks comprehensive measures to mobilize in an emergency," Hsiao said, according to a Newsweek translation of the CRNA report. "Successfully assembling 450,000 troops would be very difficult."

Another obstacle would be the military's historical lack of attention paid to weapons and equipment consolidation in its warehouses, he argued. It could lead to an inability to provide enough arms to soldiers, even if the armed forces could assemble the troops it needed.

"How do soldiers go to war without proper equipment? Are they supposed to fight with brooms?" CRNA reported Hsiao as saying.

The retired major general urged Taiwan's military to "be more aware of the crisis" and do the "basic preparations" necessary to respond to a future emergency situation.

Newsweek contacted Taiwan's defense ministry for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

'Pointless' arms race

In another interview published by CRNA today, Hsiao, who was involved with the defense ministry's now reorganized U.S. arms procurement division, called recent weapons purchases from America an "endless money pit."

Tsai's government has struck nine arms deals with the Trump administration since she was first elected to office in 2016, spending record amounts of Taiwan's military budget on defensive armaments.

Hsiao called an arms race with Beijing "pointless" because of the PLA's enormous military expenditure. "Taiwan will never close this military gap, no matter how much money it spends," he told the news site.

Signs of war

Aided by anti-China sentiment in the United States and support from President Trump's top diplomat Mike Pompeo, Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party have sought to strengthen ties with allies such as the U.S. and more recently India.

Continuing U.S. arms sales to Taipei have angered the Chinese leadership, which has voiced threats through official and unofficial channels. It has brought military tensions in the region to their highest point since the Taiwan missile crisis of the mid-1990s.

Lee Tien-tuo, a retired army colonel and former intelligence officer with Taiwan's National Security Bureau, told China Review News Agency today that a Chinese invasion would be preceded by two actions.

Beijing would first release a list of "Taiwan separatist" war criminals in order to single out certain individuals, Lee hypothesized. China would then end the current Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, signed in 2010, as a way of expressing a total breakdown in its relationship with the island, which it sees as a rogue province.

Taiwan soldier
File photo: A Taiwanese soldier. Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images