Taiwan will announce on Tuesday a plan to extend compulsory military service from four months to one year, a senior government official said, as the island grapples with mounting Chinese military pressure.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen convened a national security meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss bolstering the island’s civil defense and will announce the expansion at an afternoon news conference, added the source, who declined to be identified because the information had not yet been publicly announced.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry declined to comment, though Tsai’s office had said on Monday it would hold a national security meeting and news conference Tuesday on the new civil defense measures.
Tsai’s security team, which includes high-level members of the Defense Ministry and National Security Council, has been overhauling Taiwan’s military system since 2020 in the face of growing threats from China, according to the official.
Taipei, which rejects Beijing’s claims to sovereignty over Taiwan, on Monday denounced the largest incursion in history by Chinese air forces into the island’s air defense identification zone, with 43 Chinese aircraft crossing an unofficial buffer zone between the two sides.
China also hosted war games near Taiwan in August, following a visit to Taipei by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“China’s various unilateral behaviors have become a major concern for regional security,” said the official, who participated in the high-level debate on security.
Under plans set to take effect in 2024, recruits will receive more intense training, including firing exercises, combat instruction used by U.S. forces and handling more powerful weapons such as Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles, the source explained.
Recruits would be tasked with guarding key infrastructure, allowing regular forces to respond more quickly in the event of any attempted invasion by China, they added.
Chieh Chung, a researcher at the National Policy Foundation, a Taipei-based think tank, estimated that the expansion could add 60,000 to 70,000 more troops a year to the current 165,000-strong workforce in 2027 and beyond.
However, even after the extension, the tour of duty will remain less than the 18 months required in South Korea, which faces a hostile and nuclear-armed North Korea.
Tsai is overseeing a broad modernization program, championing the idea of “asymmetric warfare” to make the island’s forces more mobile, agile and difficult to attack.
The Central News Agency, citing government and ruling party sources familiar with the matter, first reported late on Monday that Taiwan’s government would announce its plan to expand conscription.
Taiwan has gradually shifted from an army of conscripts to a professional force dominated by volunteers, but China’s growing assertiveness toward the island it claims as its own, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have sparked debate over how to boost defense. Russia calls the war a “special operation.”
Previous Taiwanese governments of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the main opposition Kuomintang reduced male conscription from more than two years to four months to attract younger voters as tensions eased between Taipei and Beijing.
Reuters has reported that military training in Taiwan, especially for conscripts and reservists, had deteriorated.
In recent years, China has stepped up diplomatic, military and economic pressure on the self-governing island to accept Beijing’s government. Taiwan’s government says only Taiwanese can decide their future and vows to defend itself if attacked.