Taiwan’s Army Considers Extending Conscription Time, Adding Asymmetric Warfare Training

© AP Photo / Chiang Ying-yingPilots stand in front of AH-64E Apache attack helicopter before the commissioning ceremony in Taoyuan city, northern Taiwan, Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Pilots stand in front of AH-64E Apache attack helicopter before the commissioning ceremony in Taoyuan city, northern Taiwan, Tuesday, July 17, 2018 - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.03.2022
The de facto defense ministry of Taiwan is considering extending the duration of mandatory military service in the self-governing island’s defense force after having shortened it several years ago.
Appearing before the Taiwanese Legislative Yuan on Wednesday, Defense Minister Qiu Guozheng told lawmakers that four months of compulsory military service was not enough to meet the island’s defense needs, and that alternative forms of service would not help, according to the Central News Agency.

"We must consider the enemy situation and our defensive operations in terms of military strength," he said, suggesting that the mainland People’s Republic of China posed an increased threat to the self-governing island. It was unclear if he said so because of increased Chinese military drills near the island in recent years or because of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, which many analysts have suggested could be a prelude to an invasion of Taiwan.

Qui didn’t say how long he anticipated extending compulsory service, but that whatever changes were made would not take effect for at least a year. Presently, the island’s regular combat troops are composed solely of volunteers, but all men of military age are required to undergo four months of military training and become reservists.

In a separate statement on Wednesday, the office of Taiwanese President Cai Yingwen (Tsai Ing-Wen) said the government wanted to reform the training conscripts receive as well, to include more “asymmetric warfare.” Also called irregular war or guerrilla war, asymmetric war is typically waged by resistance or rebel movements against larger, uniformed military forces using hit-and-run style attacks, ambushes, and guerrilla tactics.

Last week, Mara Karlin, US assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, told a US Senate committee that successful Ukrainian resistance to Russian military forces over the last month showed why making Taiwan “as prickly as possible” was an important strategic focus.
The government in Taiwan is all that remains of the old Republic of China, which was defeated on the mainland in 1949 by communist forces, who then established the PRC in Beijing. Both governments claim to be the rightful government of China, which includes the island of Taiwan, but over the years, all but a handful of countries have switched their recognitions from Taipei to Beijing. Although the US did so in 1979, it has continued to support Taipei informally, including by selling them weapons and providing defense training.
Cai’s proposals were met with criticism by some in her own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), including legislator Lin Zhuoshui (Lin Cho-shui), who called the president’s defense improvement proposal “lukewarm.”
That said, the idea seems to be popular on the island: a recent phone survey by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation released on Wednesday showed that 75.9% of respondents over the age of 19 thought mandatory military service should be extended to one year, according to Taipei Times.
Correspondingly, about 78% of respondents said Taiwan’s military could deter a Chinese invasion on its own and 59.7% feared that’s how events would unfold, anticipating that the United States would not intervene.
Conscription began in 1951 after the government imposed martial law, which lasted until 1987 and was used to kill tens of thousands of communists and communist sympathizers, and to persecute many more. In 2017, service was shortened from one year to just four month, plus reserve status. The shift came amid warming relations with the mainland. However, as the administration of US President Donald Trump gave Cai’s pro-independence government increasing support, tensions with the mainland grew.
Three years later, the influential US publication Foreign Policy blasted the changes as having “hollowed out” Taiwan’s military, noting Taipei’s admission that it didn’t have the staff on payroll to fill all its necessary positions.
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