TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan's military is planning on integrating members of temples into its new reserve force as China steps up its grey-zone warfare against the country and fears of an invasion rise.
During a session of the Legislative Yuan on Monday (April 19), Minister of Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) announced that in response to increased military threats from the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the military is planning on creating a new "Defense Reserve Mobilization Agency" by next January. Chiu said that in addition to existing civil organizations and military reserve units, members of Buddhist and Taoist temples could be included in the force.
Chiu's comments sparked a heated debate on the popular online forum PTT, with netizens referring to his plan as the "Eight Generals Reserve Army" in reference to the Ba Jia Jiang (八家將), spiritual temple guardians who often appear at religious festivals. Some consider the idea to be a joke, comparing the potential recruits to Boxer Rebellion troops, while others noted that temples have an extensive network of volunteers who have proven effective at providing aid to those in need such as participants in large-scale pilgrimages:
"Temple volunteers, I'm laughing to death. Ba Jia Jiang to join the war."
"Leaderless woke people + Ba Jia Jiang on the front lines."
"In any case, the physical strength of the temple volunteers is much better than that of white-collar workers."
"Actually, temple volunteers are some of the best at providing outdoor camping meals."
On Tuesday (April 20), Chu Sen-tsuen (朱森村) of the MND's All-out Defense Mobilization Office clarified Chiu's statements by saying that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) is coordinating with the Ministry of Interior (MOI) on amending the Civil Defense Act to widen the range of civilians and volunteers the military can draw on in the event of a war or natural disaster, reported CNA. The Civil Defense Act enables the military to mobilize civilian groups but is currently limited to volunteer police and firefighters.
Chu said that the MND is hoping to expand the scope of the Civil Defense act to include volunteers from Buddhist and Taoist temples, as well as churches and non-governmental organizations, to join the ranks of the military in the event of a national emergency. He added that such organizations have always provided assistance after disasters and that as the country is faced with a major enemy threat, "it is necessary to integrate the strength of all the nation's people."
Chu indicated that if the act was amended, it would enable the military to call volunteers from these groups to enable "society to continue to function."