Sunday, May 31, 2009

Taiwan to replace compulsory military service with 4 months of training in 2015

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Taiwan to replace compulsory military service with 4 months of training in 2015
10 March 2009
Taiwan News, Staff Writer

Taiwanese men will no longer be drafted into the military for compulsory military service beginning in 2015, the Ministry of National Defense announced yesterday. Instead, they will have to complete four months of training and have to stand by as reservists for eventual recalls, Defense Minister Chen Chao-min told lawmakers. "By the end of 2014, we will reach 100 percent voluntary military service," Chen said.

In his election platform last year, President Ma Ying-jeou had promised three months of training, but military experts found the period too short and added one month. Ma later accepted the extension, Chen said. The training period also avoids potential clashes with the Constitution, which stipulates citizens must serve in the military, but doesn't detail how.

Responding to criticism from opposition Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Chai Trong-rong, the minister said that within one year he would also solve the Taiwanese military's image problem of having too many generals and not enough soldiers. Chen said he would tell those generals that their careers would not develop further. From 2011, the armed forces will cut the number of young men it wants for compulsory military service by 10 percent a year, Chen said. The abolition follows years of shrinking military service from an original three years for some to the current one year, which will not be shortened further.

Critics of the switch to a volunteer army have expressed concern about the cost of the operation and about the threat from China. The People's Liberation Army has targeted an estimated 1,500 missiles at Taiwan, while it has been increasing its budget and modernizing its equipment and technology. DPP lawmaker Tsai Huang-liang said at the Legislative Yuan yesterday that the change might lead to a lower quality of Taiwanese soldier, poorly trained and less able to fight the enemy. Tsai also criticized the military for reportedly relying on a more defensive strategy to be explained in its upcoming first-ever Quadrennial Defense Review, implying it equaled surrendering to China.

The policy's emphasis was "turning Taiwan into a strong fortress, scaring the enemy so they do not dare to attack Taiwan," Chen replied. Tsai said the policy amounted to giving up on air and naval warfare, allowing the enemy to advance onto land, and then just trying to hold out until reinforcements came from the United States. Chen denied the opposition lawmaker's accusations, saying the main aim was to keep the enemy away from Taiwan and deter him from landing. Chen also apologized to lawmakers for the loss of a navy and an air force computer reportedly containing classified material. The ministry was still investigating the matter, but he said a personal conflict was the more likely cause rather than spying by China.

The military also announced yesterday that it had been losing pilots at an alarming rate. An estimated 699 pilots left the military over a decade, leaving the air force with only about 100 in 2007. Of those who left, about 360 had not yet reached retirement age, reports said. Chen denied reports yesterday that a new think tank was specifically aimed at promoting contacts with rival China's military. The plans for the new body were just a general effort by the Ministry of National Defense to set up a platform for international exchanges, Chen told reporters. He compared the future think tank with similar organizations formed by sections of the United States military.

The minister also denied that the organization would provide an opportunity for senior Taiwanese military officers to visit China in the capacity of academics. Newspaper reports Sunday said the think tank would focus on raising mutual trust between the military establishments of Taiwan and China. The new body would originally resort under the umbrella of the renowned Institute of International Relations at Taipei's National Chengchi University, but the Cabinet insisted it should have administrative status, reports said.

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