Rising concerns over increasingly aggressive military maneuvers by China have prompted Taiwan to extend the mandatory military service period most of its young men must serve. But former conscripts interviewed by CNN say Taipei will need to do far more than that if it is to make the training effective.
Outdated, boring and impractical. That was the verdict of six young men who spoke to CNN about their recent experiences of mandatory service in Taiwan’s military.
They describe a process that was designed decades ago with a heavy emphasis on bayonet training, but lacking instruction in urban warfare strategies or modern weapons like drones. Some say there were too few rifles to go around, or that the weapons they trained with were too old to be of use. Others recount “specializing” in cannon, grenade and mortar units, but never receiving any ammunition to train with.
Their criticisms come at a crucial time for Taiwan’s military. President Tsai Ing-wen announced recently that the period of mandatory service for men born in or after 2005 will be extended from four months to a year, saying that the present system “no longer suits the needs” of the island’s defense. The military says the rethink follows comparisons to the militaries of other democratic jurisdictions that have longer conscription periods – such as South Korea (18-21 months), Singapore (24 months) and Israel (24-30 months).
Strengthening the island’s military has become a key concern for Tsai, who has spoken of the need to highlight Taiwan’s determination to defend itself amid increasingly aggressive noises from Beijing. The ruling Chinese Communist Party claims the self-governing democracy of 23.5 million people as part of its territory, despite never having controlled it, and has sent record numbers of air and sea patrols to harass it since former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited in August. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly refused to rule out the use of force to “reunify” the island with mainland China.
“No one wants war,” Tsai said in announcing the lengthening of mandatory service periods in December. “This is true of Taiwan’s government and people, and the global community, but peace does not come from the sky, and Taiwan is at the front lines of the expansion of authoritarianism.”
‘I only shot 40 rounds’
But former conscripts are skeptical, telling CNN the problems with mandatory military service go beyond the short time frame and will only be fixed by a more thorough revamp.
Tsai herself has acknowledged that many citizens feel serving in the military is “just a waste of time.”