Citing rising China threat, Taiwan extends military service to a year

  • Taiwan extends military service to one year from four months
  • President says growing threat from China
  • President says we choose democracy over dictatorship
  • China holds massive air force drill near Taiwan on Sunday

TAIPEI, Dec 27 (Reuters) – President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday that Taiwan will cut its mandatory military service from 2024 to 2024 as the democratically run island faces growing threats from its giant neighbor China. Extended from four months to one year.

The move, which has been widely followed, comes as China ramps up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan to assert its sovereignty claims, including almost daily missions by the Chinese air force near the island for the past three years.

Tsai said Taiwan wanted peace but needed to be able to defend itself.

“As long as Taiwan is strong enough, it will be the home of democracy and freedom all over the world and will not become a battlefield,” Tsai Ing-wen said at a press conference announcing the extension of the conscription period. “It is very difficult.”

Tsai added that the current military system, including training reservists, is inefficient and insufficient to deal with China’s rising military threat, especially if it launches a swift attack on Taiwan.

“Taiwan must tell the world that between democracy and dictatorship, we firmly believe in democracy. Between war and peace, we insist on peace. Let us show the courage and determination to protect our homeland and defend democracy.”

Tsai said conscripts would undergo more intensive training, including shooting drills, combat instruction used by the U.S. military, and operating more powerful weapons, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles.

Taiwan has complained about U.S. delays in delivering weapons this year, including Stingers, but Tsai said the situation was improving after discussions with the U.S.

Tsai’s security team, including top officials from the Defense Department and National Security Council, has been reviewing Taiwan’s military systems since 2020, an official familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Taipei, which rejects Beijing’s claim to Taiwan, reported on Monday the Chinese air force’s largest-ever incursion into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, with 43 Chinese aircraft flying over the unofficial buffer zone between the two sides.

China also held military exercises near Taiwan in August, following a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

China is a ‘major problem’

The Taiwanese government says only the people of Taiwan can determine their future.

“China’s various unilateral actions have become a major concern for regional security,” said the official, who has participated in high-level security discussions.

The Ministry of Defense said at the same news conference that the conscripts are tasked with guarding critical infrastructure, enabling regular troops to respond more quickly in the event of an attempted Chinese incursion.

Chieh Chung, a fellow at the National Policy Foundation, a think tank in Taipei, estimates that the expansion could add an additional 60,000 to 70,000 professionals a year to the current 165,000 professionals by 2027 and beyond.

Even after the extension, however, the service period will still be shorter than the 18 months mandated by South Korea, which faces a hostile nuclear-armed North.

Tsai is overseeing a broad modernization program, advocating the idea of ​​”asymmetrical warfare” to make the island’s forces more mobile, flexible and less vulnerable to attack.

While the U.S. has urged Taiwan to modernize its military to make it as agile and difficult to attack as a “porcupine,” Ms. Tsai said there was no pressure from Washington for those reforms.

Taiwan has gradually transitioned from a conscript army to a mostly volunteer professional force, but China’s growing assertiveness over the islands it claims and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have sparked debate over how to bolster its defenses. Russia has called the war in Ukraine a “special operation”.

Tsai said they had learned “some things” from that war, incorporated them into Taiwan’s defense reforms, and seen Ukraine’s ability to fend off a much larger Russian military.

She added that this gave the international community time to provide Ukraine with the aid they needed.

As tensions between Taipei and Beijing eased, the former Taiwan government, led by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the main opposition Kuomintang, shortened compulsory military service for men from more than two years to four months to appeal to younger voters.

Reuters reported that Taiwan’s military training, especially for conscripts and reservists, has deteriorated.

Written by Ben Blanchard.Edited by Gerry Doyle, Edmund Klamann and Simon Cameron-Moore

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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