Young Taiwanese are becoming more patriotic and willing to defend the self-governed island and their way of life. This is according to a recent Defense Ministry survey of military-camp participants and college and university students, in which more than 90% of those interviewed indicated an interest in joining the military.

The ministry said its military camps and other campaigns to promote national-identity and national-defense awareness had boosted voluntary enlistment among the young in Taiwan. It now claims that the military has to raise the bar for new recruits to pick the best candidates, according to the Central News Agency.

The camps, run by the army, navy and air force and featuring augmented-reality combat simulators, trips to the Taiwan-occupied Itu Aba Island in the South China Sea as well as tours aboard war vessels, are open to all secondary and tertiary students and people under the age of 25. Participants in the programs may be called up as an auxiliary force in the event of a full-blown war.

Around 170,000 Taiwanese males reach military age annually and normally a third of them are enlisted. More young people are nowadays joining the navy and air force as a result of modernization programs to regroup ground forces into smaller units and boost spending in order to fend off attacks.

An officer with Taiwan's Defense Ministry dispatches national service leaflets at a recruitment center. Photo: Central News Agency, Taiwan
An officer with Taiwan’s Defense Ministry hands out national service leaflets at a recruitment center. Photo: Central News Agency, Taiwan
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Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen inspects seamen at a naval base in November. Photo: Reuters

The Taiwanese military has 275,000 troops in active service as well as reserve personnel numbering between 2.8 million and 3.8 million.

Although the conscription law makes it compulsory for male citizens aged between 19 and 40 to be drafted for about two years of service, recently, voluntary enlistment has been stable. There has even been an uptick in the number of new recruits since 2016, the year when the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party became the island’s ruling party.

The DPP intends gradually to expand the number of volunteer troops with the eventual goal of forming an all-volunteer force with high recruitment and retention rates. The last group of mandatory conscripts were discharged in December.

New recruits under the voluntary enlistment regime can have their university tuition waived and enjoy up to 110 days of leave, on top of an annual lump-sum payment of about NT$310,000 (US$10,065).

But higher pay and fringe benefits eating into the island’s defense budget have lately become causes for concern. According to the Defense Ministry, in 2017, roughly 47% of the budget total, or NT$319.3 billion, was spent on salaries and allowances for troops.

New recruits, especially pilots and seamen, may face a higher risk of a military face-off with their counterparts from the People’s Liberation Army amid the latter’s frequent breaches of Taiwan’s airspace and marine border since 2018.

In a speech on Wednesday to mark the 40th anniversary of Beijing’s policies regarding Taiwan, Chinese President Xi Jinping again touted the “one country, two systems” formula in the two former European colonies of Hong Kong and Macau as a solution to the question of Taiwan.

In the speech Xi said he could not rule out the use of force, or in other words, mounting a PLA takeover of the island.

“We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means,” Xi said in his speech.

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