Taiwan soldiers get pay raises amid recruitment woes

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan on Thursday announced pay rises for its professional soldiers to try to boost recruitment as it moves towards ending conscription.

From Jan 1, volunteer soldiers and sergeants will receive an additional monthly allowance of up to NT$4,000 (S$169), according to the Cabinet.

This will bring the lowest-ranked private's monthly salary to NT$33,625.

Special allowances for servicemen stationed in Kinmen islet and on the Spratly islands in the South China Sea will be increased by 23 per cent to 62 per cent to NT$12,000 to NT$20,000 a month.

"The recruitment results in the past two years did not meet our expectations ... appropriately raising the salaries is a precondition to the successful implementation of the volunteer soldier system," it said in a statement.

The defence ministry originally planned to phase out the decades-old conscription policy by the end of 2014. But it announced in September it was delaying the move by two years due to insufficient recruitment.

It now plans to launch an all-volunteer service on Jan 1, 2017, although men aged over 20 will still have to undergo four months of military training.

The death of a young corporal allegedly abused by his superiors dealt a blow to the ministry's plan for a professional military, already hit by low recruitment in the first half of the year.

Currently all men aged over 20 must serve one year in the military.

The government hopes that professional soldiers will enlist for a longer period, making for a better trained and more highly skilled military.

Military service was seen as a patriotic duty after the island's split from China at the end of a civil war in 1949.

But warming ties with Beijing have seen tensions ease in recent years and the idea of serving in a professional military seems to hold few attractions for young Taiwanese.

In the six months to June, the military recruited just 1,847 soldiers - or 31 per cent of its target of 5,887. The ministry had planned to recruit 17,447 before the end of February next year.

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