Taiwan mulls longer compulsory military service amid growing military tensions

The debate comes as the U.S. sends a defense delegation to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen, and a warship.
By Hwang Chun-mei and Jojo Man
2022.03.01
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Taiwan mulls longer compulsory military service amid growing military tensions Taiwanese soldiers raise flags on military vehicles during a national day parade in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei, Oct. 10, 2021.
AFP

Democratic Taiwan is considering stepping up military recruitment amid fears China could speed up plans move against the country while the rest of the world is focusing on events in Ukraine, as a U.S. defense delegation began a two day visit on Tuesday.

Taiwanese defense ministery Chiu Kuo-cheng told the Legislative Yuan on Tuesday that a move from national service to conscription "can't be ruled out," as lawmakers debated moving to a more active military recruitment program.

Taiwan's army numbered 162,282 in 2021, with males over the age of 18 required to complete four months' military training, but falling birthrates mean that the pool of potential recruits is dwindling.

The government had previously regarded all males up to the age of 36 as conscripted reservists. The legal affairs bureau tabled a proposal in the Legislative Yuan calling for debate on a return to conscription, if the military needs of the country can't be met by volunteers alone.

Chiu said proposals to bring back year-long military service were also on the table alongside other options, but "I haven't made a decision yet."

Opposition Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker Tseng Ming-tsung welcomed the proposals, although he said there should be a consensus among the island's 23 million population.

"Given that the current situation is so tense across the Taiwan Strait, this may lead to war," Tseng said. "Assuming there is a [nationwide] consensus, we will support it."

"I think it is time to bring it out and have a proper debate," Tseng said.

Ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Luo Chi-cheng said people in Taiwan are strongly affected by Putin's war in Ukraine.

"There is going to be a more positive attitude to discussing these issues right now," Luo said. "It may be that there will be a modest extension of national military service to enable our military to respond as needed in the event of war."

National defense researcher Shu Hsiao-hwang said the current training period of four months may not be enough in the face of saber-rattling from Beijing.

"The training period is really short right now ... which means that professional, operations and equipment training is also too short, which will cause problems for conscripted troops in future," Shu said.

He said the lack of specialist training could mean a lack of key specialties among conscripted personnel, and that learning tactics in a training session was a far cry from knowing how to apply them on the battlefield.

US commitment

The U.S. delegation appointed by President Joe Biden arrived in Taiwan to be greeted by foreign minister Joseph Wu, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson passed through the Taiwan Strait.

The U.S. Navy said the ship’s passage "demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific."

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen will also meet with President Tsai Ing-wen and other top officials, with Tsai's office calling for "an in-depth exchange of views on Taiwan-U.S. cooperation issues in various fields."

Taiwan hopes the sides will "continue to deepen the steady development of Taiwan-U.S. relations, continue to jointly maintain regional peace and stability, and continue to jointly contribute to global peace and prosperity," the presidential office said in a statement.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also expected in Taiwan on Wednesday, and will also meet with Tsai.

“Former Secretary of State Pompeo's visit displays fully U.S. bipartisan backing for its ‘rock solid' support" for Taiwan, the island's foreign ministry said in a statement.

'Futile' visit

China on Tuesday said the delegation's visit was "futile."

"[It is] futile for the U.S. to send anyone to demonstrate its so-called support for Taiwan," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

He called on Washington to end "all forms of official exchange with Taiwan."

Under CCP leader Xi Jinping, China has stepped up its territorial claims on Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the CCP, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.

Tsai, who was re-elected in a landslide victory on a platform of defending the country's democratic way of life, has repeatedly said nobody in Taiwan is interested in being ruled by Beijing, citing the current crackdown on public dissent and political opposition in Hong Kong as illustrative of life under CCP rule.

China has stepped up flights of its military aircraft into Taiwan's air defense identification zone to a near-daily basis, while the Biden administration has followed that of Trump in boosting official contacts with Taiwan and continuing to supply its military with arms.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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