Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said Tuesday that Taiwan will extend the period of compulsory military service from four months to a year from 2024 in the face of growing threats from China.
This decision was revealed long before Tsai Ing-wen announced it. China is ramping up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan and continues to assert its sovereignty over it, disrupting Taiwan with military aircraft almost every day for the past three years.
Tsai Ing-wen speaks after a meeting of top security officials from the National Security Council. Taiwan wants peace, she said, but it needs to be able to defend itself.
Tsai Ing-wen said it was a “tough decision.” She said at a press conference: “As long as Taiwan is strong enough, it will be the home of global democracy and freedom, and it will not become a battlefield, and young people will not have to go to the battlefield.”
She said Taiwan’s current military systems are trained inefficiently and are inadequate to deal with China’s rising military threat, especially in the event of a rapid attack on Taiwan.
Tsai Ing-wen said: “Taiwan must tell the world that between democracy and dictatorship, we uphold democracy; between war and peace, we uphold peace, showing the courage and determination to protect our homeland and defend democracy.”
Tsai Ing-wen said enlisted soldiers would receive more intensive training, including live-fire training, using the U.S. military’s training model, and operating more powerful weapons and equipment, including Stinger missiles (also known as Stinger air defense missiles) and anti-tank missiles.
Tsai’s security team, including top officials from the Defense Ministry and the National Security Council, has been researching the overall defense strategy since 2020, an official familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Taiwan said on Monday that the Chinese air force had intruded into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on the largest scale, with 47 Chinese aircraft flying over the midline of the strait.
After Pelosi, then Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives visited Taiwan in early August, China also held military exercises near Taiwan.
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,” Reuters quoted a defense official involved in the discussions as saying.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said at the same news conference that the tasks of conscript soldiers include guarding critical infrastructure, allowing main combat forces to respond more quickly in the event of an attempted Chinese invasion.
Jie Chung, a research fellow at the National Policy Research Foundation, a think tank in Taipei, estimates that the expansion plan could add 6,000 to 7,000 troops annually to the current number of professional soldiers of 165,000 by 2027.
However, even with the extension, Taiwan’s service period is shorter than South Korea’s 18 months.
Tsai Ing-wen is leading the development of a broad military modernization program, advocating the concept of “asymmetrical combat power” to make Taiwan’s forces more mobile, agile, and less vulnerable to attack.
The United States has urged Taiwan to modernize its military, pursuing a “hedgehog strategy” to make itself more agile and difficult to attack. At a press conference on Tuesday, Tsai Ing-wen said that the decision to extend military service was not under pressure from the U.S.
Taiwan’s military has gradually shifted from a compulsory conscription system to a mostly volunteer-based professional force. Still, growing assertiveness in China, which claims sovereignty over it, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have raised questions about how to strengthen the Discussion of Taiwan’s defense.
As cross-strait tensions eased, previous administrations under the DPP and KMT reduced the mandatory military service period for men from more than two years to four months to cater to younger voters.