Taiwan to extend compulsory military service, official says, as China shows air power

TAIPEI, Dec 27 (Reuters) – Taiwan will announce a plan on Tuesday to extend compulsory military service to one year from four months, a senior government official said, as the island deals with rising Chinese military pressure.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen convened a national security meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss reinforcing the island’s civil defence and will announce the extension at a news conference in the afternoon, the official added, declining to be identified because the information was not yet publicly announced.

Taiwan’s defence ministry declined to comment, although Tsai’s office had said on Monday she would be holding a national security meeting and news conference on Tuesday on new civil defence measures.

Tsai’s security team, including high-level officials from the defence ministry and the National Security Council, have been reviewing Taiwan’s military system since 2020 amid increasing threats from China, according to the official.

Taipei, which rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims to Taiwan, on Monday reported the largest-ever Chinese air force incursion into the island’s air defence identification zone, with 43 Chinese planes crossing an unofficial buffer between the two sides.

China also staged war games near Taiwan in August following a visit to Taipei by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“China’s various unilateral behaviours have become a major concern for regional security,” said the official, who took part in the high-level security discussion.

Under plans due to come into effect in 2024, conscripts would undergo more intense training, including shooting exercises, combat instruction used by U.S. forces, and operating more powerful weapons including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles, the official said.

Conscripts would be tasked with guarding key infrastructure, enabling regular forces to respond more swiftly in the event of any attempt by China to invade, they added.

Chieh Chung, researcher at the National Policy Foundation, a Taipei-based think tank, estimated that the extension could add an extra 60,000 to 70,000 manpower annually to the current 165,000-strong professional force in 2027 and beyond.

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

Tsai is overseeing a broad modernisation programme, championing the idea of “asymmetric warfare” to make the island’s forces more mobile, agile and harder to attack.

The official Central News Agency, citing government and ruling party sources familiar with the matter, first reported late on Monday that Taiwan’s government would be announcing its plan to extend compulsory military service.

Taiwan has been gradually shifting from a conscript military to a volunteer-dominated professional force, but China’s growing assertiveness towards the island it claims as its own, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have prompted debate about how to boost defence. Russia calls the war a “special operation”.

Previous Taiwan governments under the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the main opposition Kuomintang cut compulsory service for men to four months from more than two years to appeal to younger voters as tensions eased between Taipei and Beijing.

Reuters has reported that military training in Taiwan, particularly for conscripts and reservists, had deteriorated.

In recent years, China has stepped up diplomatic, military and economic pressure on the self-governed island to accept Beijing’s rule. Taiwan’s government says only Taiwanese people can decide their future and vows to defend itself if attacked.

Reporting By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle, Simon Cameron-Moore and Edmund Klamann

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

source: reuters.com