Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen announced Tuesday that Taiwan will extend compulsory military service from four months to one year starting in 2024 as part of her plans to prepare for a future conflict with China.
The extended mandatory service applies to men born after 2005 and will come into effect on January 1, 2024. According to The South China Morning Post, the plan is seen as unpopular among Taiwan’s youth and could hurt Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party in the 2024 presidential election.
“I must admit it is a highly difficult decision to make, but as a president and commander-in-chief of our forces, I must do so to uphold the interest of the nation and the persistent survival of Taiwan as well as the free [people] living in the generations to come,” Tsai said when asked if she was worried about the announcement impacting the election.
Tsai’s announcement came a few months after former US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper visited Taiwan and called for the island to extend its compulsory service to better prepare for war with China. “I believe that Taiwan needs to lengthen and toughen its conscription. That means to have young Taiwanese boys and girls serve at least one year if not longer, in their nation’s military,” Esper said in July.
Tsai’s plan will also overhaul training for Taiwanese conscripts, and a Taiwanese legislative source told the Post that it would involve training similar to what US forces receive. “Combat instructions currently used by the US military will be included as part of the training for the conscripts under the plan aimed at overhauling the structure of the military forces,” the source said.
According to The Associated Press, the White House welcomed Tsai’s announcement and said the US would continue supporting Taiwan. “We will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability in line with our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act and our one-China policy,” the White House said.
The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) President Biden signed into law on Friday will give Taiwan unprecedented military aid and includes provisions to increase joint US and Taiwanese military drills and training.
Since the US severed diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979, it has deployed small numbers of military trainers to Taiwan, but the presence has been unofficial, and the new cooperation is expected to be more overt. In October 2021, Tsai acknowledged the presence of US troops in Taiwan, marking the first time a Taiwanese leader did so since 1979.
China on Sunday responded to the new US support for Taiwan included in the NDAA by launching major drills around the island. China’s People’s Liberation Army said the exercises were done in response to the “escalating collusion and provocation by the United States and Taiwan.”