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President confident in shift to volunteer military

TAIPEI -- President Ma Ying-jeou expressed confidence in the chances of success in Taiwan's shift to an all-volunteer force during an inspection visit Thursday to a military unit in northern Taiwan made up of volunteer soldiers and officers.

The government's efforts to push for an all-volunteer force have included offering salary rises, improved living quarters and allowing Internet surfing and smartphone use when off-duty, Ma said during his visit to the multiple-launch rocket battalion in Taoyuan County.

It is one of 35 Army units in which creature comfort initiatives have been implemented since October as part of the military's efforts to improve public opinion of the armed forces and boost lower-than-expected enlistment figures as it continues the shift to an all-volunteer force.

The improved amenities have triggered soldiers' interest in extending their service times. Since October, 65.9 percent of the members of those units have volunteered to extend their service, up from the previous figure of 45.3 percent, Ma said.

Ma also noted a high proportion of female soldiers and officers in the multiple-launch rocket battalion, describing it as a sign of a successful transition to an all-volunteer force.

Forty-eight members of the 262-member unit are women, accounting for about 18 percent, the Army said.

The president also toured a recreation area at the base that allows soldiers and officers to use computers with Internet connections and to use their smartphones and tablet computers. He later observed a simulated rocket-launch drill.

Taiwan plans to shift to an all-volunteer force by 2017. It had originally planned for the transition to be completed by 2015, but pushed the date back due to lower-than expected recruitment numbers.

The military aims to recruit around 10,500 volunteer soldiers in 2014 as the country moves toward an all-volunteer force, Ma said.

To give young people more incentives to pursue a military career, the government on Jan. 1 increased its monthly duty allowances for volunteer soldiers and non-commissioned officers by between NT$2,000 (US$66.60) and NT$4,000.

The military is also offering more opportunities for enlisted soldiers to further their studies and obtain bachelor's degrees, Ma said. Meanwhile, the Ministry of National Defense continues to streamline the military in an effort to reorganize Taiwan's defense apparatus and restructure the armed forces, he said.

“We're very confident that we will able to able to build a military force that is 'small but elite, small but skillful, and small but strong,'” Ma said.

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