Taiwan will extend the length of mandatory military service from four months to one year in response to China’s rising threat to the island, President Tsai Ing-Wen announced at a conference Tuesday, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Starting in 2024, all male citizens born on or after Jan. 1, 2005 will complete a year-long period of conscription, a move years in development as China’s increasing belligerence compels reluctant Taiwanese to abandon a historically defense-averse attitude, the WSJ reported. The decision came after two years of deliberations and advice from U.S. military analysts, who worry Taiwan’s military is unprepared to fend off a Chinese invasion.
“This was an extremely difficult decision,” Tsai said, according to the WSJ. “Peace depends on national defense, and national defense depends on the whole population.“ (RELATED: Japan Reverses Course, Announces Largest Military Buildup Since WWII Amid Rising China Threat)
Discussions about extending mandatory service intensified after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Tsai said that the U.S. did not pressure Taiwan to prolong the conscription period, the WSJ reported. Tsai said Taiwanese officials noted the determination and level of training displayed by Ukrainian troops in repelling Russian forces, and that the island may have to exhibit similar qualities to fight against China’s much larger air and naval forces.
“I believe all the countries in the world that care about Taiwan will see how much importance we attach to self-defense,” she added, according to the WSJ.
Critics and former soldiers have questioned Taiwan’s basic training program, saying conscripts and volunteers spend too much time performing menial chores instead of learning critical skills, the WSJ reported.
The military would also boost conscript pay from $212 monthly to $856 in 2024, close to minimum wage, Tsai announced, according to the WSJ.
Roughly 80,000 Taiwanese complete forced service requirements each year and join the island’s two million-strong reserve force afterward, according to the WSJ. Taiwan maintains a standing army of about 180,000 troops.
In a poll conducted earlier in December, only 35% of Taiwanese ages 20 to 24 responded in favor of extending conscription, a decline from 56% in the same age category in March, the WSJ reported.
Tsai announced the changes after China deployed more than 70 warplanes near Taiwan, some crossing into the island’s claimed airspace, after President Joe Biden signed legislation containing billions for bolstering Taiwan’s defenses into law. China said the air incursion was a response to “collusion and provocation by the U.S. and Taiwan,” according to the WSJ.
Taiwan previously mandated a two-year conscription period, a legacy of sporadic flare-ups with the Chinese mainland after the nationalist Kuomintang army escaped to the island in 1949 after being defeated by Chairman Mao Zedong’s Communist forces, according to the WSJ.
Tensions abated after a thawing in the 1980’s, and the conscription period gradually shortened throughout the 2000’s as Taiwan’s young people began to view mandatory service as wasteful and inconvenient, the WSJ reported. The island’s leaders had intended to transition to an all-volunteer army but has historically struggled with recruiting enough forces to meet the challenge from China that has metastasized in recent years.
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