Taiwan authorities extend mandatory military service to 1 year, ‘a deplorable decision’ made under US pressure
Published: Dec 27, 2022 09:47 PM

US, Taiwan Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

US, Taiwan Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

At a Tuesday press briefing on "adjusting the structure" of the military and defense, Taiwan regional leader Tsai Ing-wen announced to extend mandatory military service from its current four months to one year starting from 2024. 

The plan, which is strongly opposed by Taiwan people due to non-peaceful associations, is viewed by experts from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan as a deplorable decision to push Taiwan people, especially youth, to the front line of a possible military conflict under the irresistible pressure of the US.

Tsai, who has resigned as president of the secessionist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after a fiasco in local elections in November, described the decision as "extremely difficult." Hyping the "military threats" from the Chinese mainland, Tsai said that "as long as Taiwan is strong enough, it will not become a battlefield," Taiwan-based media reported. 

Besides the time period extension, conscripts are required to undergo more intense training sessions, including shooting exercises, grenade throwing, combat instruction used by US troops, and operating drones and some powerful weapons like Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles, local media reported. The salary for conscripts will increase to $NT26,000 ($846) from $NT6,000 ($195) per month. 

Despite Tsai denying there was pressure from the US at the press briefing, analysts across the Taiwan Straits do not regard it as persuasive, as the "US element" has already became an open secret on the island. Mark Esper, the former US Secretary of Defense, once called on the DPP authorities to extend the four-month mandatory military training to at least one year and to include women during his Taiwan trip in July. 

Zhang Wensheng, deputy dean of the Taiwan Research Institute at Xiamen University, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the extension of mandatory military service will not change the disparity between the military forces on the two sides of the Taiwan Straits, and it will hardly improve the combat capacity on the island.

However, some analysts have warned that the DPP authorities might incorporate some conscripts into the "cyber army" to engage in collecting intelligence and conduct information warfare against the mainland, given their relatively weak capabilities on the real battlefield.

According to Zhang, there is no election pressure on Tsai after the defeat in the local elections, but the US pressure on the DPP is hard to resist. "With the US meddling in Taiwan's military preparations, including arms sales, Tsai has no say but to obey the US and push the Taiwan people to the brink of war, which is deplorable." 

Chang Ya-chung, president of the Sun Yat-sen School in Taiwan and a member of Taiwan's major opposition party KMT, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the US does not think air and sea power is important for Taiwan's defense now. When there is a war between the two sides in the future, the US wants Taiwan authorities to have urban warfare on the island, so they are focusing on individual warfare and the need to increase the available troops, Chang said.

Cross-straits tension is not what Taiwan people want. But it is in the US' strategic interest to arm the island and use it as a frontline pawn to contain the Chinese mainland, Chang said, expecting that the US may ask Taiwan authorities to increase the defense budget to purchase more US weapons and ensure the island's military is in line with US strategy. 

Earlier in December, the US House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 that could provide a huge amount of military financing loans for Taiwan authorities to purchase US weapons. The act also sets up the "Taiwan Fellowship Program" in which the US will send federal employees to work at the Taiwan authorities' executive and legislative branches.

According to the defense authorities of Taiwan region, there were more than 162,000 voluntary forces in active service in Taiwan as of August 2022. However, it is still far from the planned number of 215,000. Taiwan authorities are also facing the phenomenon of fewer children, with 153,800 births in 2021, a record low for the region.