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ABC News
ABC News

Taiwan to extend military service to one year to preserve 'democracy and freedom' amid growing China threat

Taiwan has announced that it will extend compulsory military service to one year from the current four months due to the increased threat it faces from China.

President Tsai Ing-wen announced the anticipated decision on Tuesday, in the hope it will avoid Taiwan becoming a "battlefield."

"As long as Taiwan is strong enough, it will be the home of democracy and freedom all over the world, and it will not become a battlefield," Ms Tsai told a media conference.

Ms Tsai had convened a national security meeting earlier on Tuesday to discuss reinforcing the island's civil defence.

Her security team, including high-level officials from the defence ministry and the National Security Council, have been reviewing Taiwan's military system since 2020 amid increasing threats from China, according to the official.

Taipei, which rejects Beijing's sovereignty claims to Taiwan, on Monday reported the largest-ever Chinese air force incursion into the island's air defence zone, with 43 Chinese planes crossing an unofficial buffer between the two sides.

China also staged war games near Taiwan in August following a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Under plans due to come into effect in 2024, conscripts will undergo more intense training, including shooting exercises, combat instruction used by US forces, and operating more powerful weapons, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles, a Taiwanese official told Reuters.

Conscripts would be tasked with guarding key infrastructure, enabling regular forces to respond more swiftly in the event of any attempt by China to invade, they added.

Chieh Chung, a researcher at the National Policy Foundation, a Taipei-based think tank, estimated that the extension could add an extra 60,000 to 70,000 personnel annually to the current 165,000-strong professional force in 2027 and beyond.

Even after the extension, however, the period of service will still be shorter than the 18 months mandated in South Korea, which faces a hostile and nuclear-armed North Korea.

Ms Tsai is overseeing a broad modernisation programme, championing the idea of "asymmetric warfare" to make the island's forces more mobile, agile and harder to attack.

Taiwan has been gradually shifting from a conscript military to a volunteer-dominated professional force.

But China's growing assertiveness towards the island it claims as its own, as well as Russia's invasion of Ukraine, have prompted debate about how to boost defence. 


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