Taiwanese businessman Robert Tsao offers $1bn to train up 'civilian warriors' and 'common folk' marksmen

One of Taiwan's richest men has promised to put forward one billion Taiwanese dollars to train up a defence force, made up of "civilian warriors" and "common folk" marksmen, to help protect against a possible invasion from China.

Robert Tsao was wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest as he offered to privately fund two civilian defence training programmes at a news conference on Thursday.

The 75-year-old billionaire, who founded the chip maker United Microelectronics Corp (UMC), said 600 million Taiwanese dollars (around £17m) would be used to train three million "civilian warriors" in three years.

He said the other 400 million Taiwanese dollars (around £11m) would be used to train 300,000 "common folk" into expert marksmen.

Beijing sees Taiwan as being part of China and has not ruled out using military force to bring it under its control.

Mr Tsao, who was reportedly once worth 81 billion Taiwanese dollars (£2.3bn), was formerly an active supporter of unifying Taiwan with China and renounced his Taiwanese citizenship in protest against a government investigation of his company in 2011.

He told Radio Free Asia that he had a change of heart after witnessing China's crackdown on Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

Mr Tsao renounced his Singaporean citizenship at the news conference on Thursday, said his Taiwanese citizenship had been restored, and that he planned to "die in Taiwan and stand with its people".

He said: "I'm 100 percent a Taiwanese citizen."

Last month Mr Tsao offered to donate three billion Taiwanese dollars to bolster the self-ruling island's defences.

It came after China launched unprecedented military drills around the island democracy in response to a visit by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Taiwan rejects China's claims of sovereignty and said only the island's people can decide their future.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has reinforced America's commitment to Taiwan, even saying they would be willing to defend it militarily.

Asked about Mr Tsao's plans, Taiwan cabinet spokesperson Lo Ping-cheng thanked him for wanting to protect the island.

"Whether these plans are feasible, relevant departments will evaluate," he told reporters.

UMC has distanced itself from its founder, saying in a statement: "Mr Tsao retired from UMC more than 10 years ago.

"He has nothing to do with UMC."