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Ma to continue push for volunteer force amid doubts

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday pledged to continue his push for the transformation of the existing military conscription system into a fully voluntary military force, despite skepticism that the major system change is doomed to fail.

Speaking during a conferral ceremony for generals in Taipei, Ma admitted that the military faced sluggish voluntary recruitment over the past year.

Such poor performance in luring young Taiwanese men and women into joining the military has made many cast doubts on whether or not the transformation can take place on schedule, Ma said.

The president stressed that his administration is pushing the change not to fulfill his campaign promise, but instead to address future challenges for the R.O.C. armed forces.

“The main reason behind the military system change is because the service term for a compulsory service conscript has been significantly shortened over the past decade,” Ma said yesterday.

The service time for a compulsory service soldier has become too short to meet the defensive needs of Taiwan's military, and therefore the government has implemented the change to the conscription system, the president said.

In a move to boost recruitment, Ma yesterday said that earlier that day the Cabinet approved the military's proposal of a NT$2,000 to NT$4,000 salary raise for volunteer soldiers.

The Cabinet also approved a hike in subsidies given to military personnel and coastguardsmen who are stationed on outlying islands, Ma added.

These moves are meant to offer better incentives to boost recruitment, he noted.

Other than offering higher pay, the president also said the military will continue to launch reforms to create a better environment for soldiers so that more local youth will be willing to see the Armed Forces as a potential lifelong career.

Ma made the comments two days after the release of a Control Yuan report that raised concerns over the government's voluntary military plan.

In a report published Tuesday, the government watchdog warned that the voluntary military transformation could fail, given the ongoing sluggish recruitment.

If the transition to an all-volunteer force is a government policy that cannot be changed, the defense ministry should reconsider its target of a 215,000-strong military, the Control Yuan said.

Taiwan's armed forces have only recruited 8,603 men and women in the first 11 months of 2013, fulfilling just 30.15 percent of the MND's target of 28,531.

The military originally expected to abolish the existing conscription system and replace it with a full voluntary scheme by Jan. 1, 2015, whereby the R.O.C. armed forces would be downsized to around 215,000 from the current 275,000 following the transformation.

However, the MND announced this September to postpone the abolishment of the conscription system by two years to 2017 due to sluggish volunteer recruitment numbers.

No Turning Back

Meanwhile, speaking during the same ceremony yesterday, Defense Minister Yen Ming (嚴明) pledged that the ministry will complete the transformation on schedule.

“There is no turning back (on pushing for a full voluntary military)” the minister said.

Despite the bleak outlook, Yen is still optimistic the MND will complete the mission.

According to Yen, the Armed Forces only need to recruit around 10,000 voluntary soldiers per year between 2014 and 2016. Starting in 2017 when the new system officially hits the road, the military needs to recruit around 7,000 soldiers a year to maintain a defense-capable force.

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