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Taiwan beefs up island deployment to meet China threat

Nation has reinstated 1-year mandatory military service to start in 2024

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Soldiers at the Penghu, Magong military base in Taiwan, December 2022. (AP photo)

Soldiers at the Penghu, Magong military base in Taiwan, December 2022. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan is preparing to send 700 conscripts to address staffing shortages on outlying island garrisons, according to reports.

As part of the Ministry of National Defense's 2024 budget, conscripts will be deployed to islands such as Kinmen and Matsu, CNA reported. It is part of a wider strategy of reintroducing one-year mandatory military service to counter the China threat.

This will solve the issue of understaffed garrisons on outlying bases. However, there is a concern this could create troop management challenges, according to Deputy Researcher at the National Policy Foundation, Jie Zhong (揭仲).

He told CNA that assigning conscripts to serve on the outlying islands through a draft, rather than voluntarily, could pose management issues. To mitigate this, he suggested offering incentives such as "reduced service terms" or "additional allowances" to encourage conscripts to opt for outlying islands as their service locations.

Jie said the MND’s plan to restore one-year mandatory military service will involve around 9,100 conscripts. It specifies the deployment of conscripts to serve on outlying islands like Dongsha, Dongji, Liang Island, Gaodeng, Dongyin, Kinmen, and Penghu in the coming year.

This equates to one conscript out of every 13 potentially serving on these outlying islands. Jie added the budget includes an additional allowance for 25 conscripted non-commissioned officers and 150 conscript soldiers.

The defense ministry usually emphasizes the importance of "conscripts and regulars serving separately." However, the new deployment strategy involves mixing voluntary and conscripted troops on outlying islands.

In a bid to incentivize conscripts to voluntarily choose outlying islands for their service, Jie recommended: allowing conscripts to serve strictly on a voluntary basis, moderately increasing allowances, and reducing the mandatory service term from 19 weeks to eight weeks.

Referring to Article 18 of the Military Service Act, which allows for early discharge from active service, Jie said that reducing the mandatory service term for conscripts who voluntarily select outlying islands does not break the law. During Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) presidency, from 2004 to July 2007, the conscription period was reduced three times, invoking Article 18 and "surplus quotas."