Taiwan weighs extending compulsory military service beyond 4 months

Taiwan has been gradually shifting from a conscript military to a volunteer-dominated professional force. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan is considering extending compulsory military service beyond the current four months, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Wednesday (March 23), as the war in Ukraine renewed a discussion about how best to respond to China's military threats.

Taiwan has been gradually shifting from a conscript military to a volunteer-dominated professional force, but China's growing pressure against the island, as well as Russia's invasion of Ukraine, have prompted debate about how to boost civil defence.

Answering lawmakers' questions in Parliament, Mr Chiu said that proposals to extend military service were still under consideration, and that there would "definitely" be a plan put forward this year.

"We must consider the enemy situation and our defensive operations in terms of military strength," he said.

Any changes would not come into effect until a year after they are proposed, Mr Chiu added.

Previously, governments under the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the main opposition Kuomintang had cut compulsory service from more than two years to the current four months, moves made to please younger voters as tensions eased between Taipei and Beijing.

But China has stepped up its military activities near the island over the past two years or so, seeking to press it to accept its sovereignty claims. 

Taiwan’s presidential office said in a statement later on Wednesday that the defence ministry was considering everyone’s views, but nothing had been finalised.  

Training content must be reformed so those undergoing military service are able to effectively respond to the needs of modern warfare, and to strengthen the armed forces’ concept of "asymmetric warfare", it added. 

Taiwan's military is dwarfed by that of China's, but strategists hope superior training could help give them the edge in a conflict. The government is also working on a programme to reform reservist training.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is overseeing a broad modernisation programme, championing the idea of "asymmetric warfare", to make the island's forces more mobile and agile.

Mr Lee Shih-chiang, head of the ministry's strategic planning department, speaking at the same session as Mr Chiu, said he expected the first batch of US-made MQ-9 Reaper drones, which can be armed with missiles and operate at long ranges, will enter service with Taiwan by 2025.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province, to be reunified, by force if necessary. Beijing has stepped up its military activities near the island in recent years, seeking to pressure Taipei to accept China's sovereignty claims.

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