Taiwan deputy defence chief laments military readiness in face of threats

Taipei deputy defence minister says mainland threat remains, and lack of troops, resources and public awareness undermines security

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 6:44am

Taiwan's military has warned that a lack of crisis awareness, a low birth rate and resource constraints could threaten security in the face of a growing threat from the mainland.

The deputy defence minister, Andrew Yang Nien-dzu, said yesterday there was still a long way to go before Taipei could establish "military confidence-building measures" with Beijing to avert that threat.

The defence ministry listed three factors that challenged the island's security in the English-edition of its 2013 Quadrennial Defence Review, which assesses military readiness and policies over the past four years.

"For more than half a century, the public has been living away from wars, in peace and prosperity, so that they gradually neglect threats and surrounding security issues," it said.

The ministry said Taiwan should examine how other countries educated their citizens about defence matters and the possibility of enemy threats.

The report said there was a need to "improve public awareness of espionage activities, encourage public participation in defence affairs, and strengthen the public's vigilance of maritime territorial sovereignty".

Taiwan and the mainland were bitter political rivals after their civil war ended in 1949, but relations have improved greatly since Ma Ying-jeou became the island's president in 2008 and adopted a policy of engaging Beijing.

While rapprochement has led to the signing of 18 economic and other non-political co-operation agreements, Beijing has not renounced the use of force against Taiwan if it declared formal independence.

The defence ministry also said the previous population policy, which discouraged parents from having more children, had resulted in the island having one of the lowest birth rates in the world, which had created a manpower shortage for the military.

"The decreasing numbers of qualified manpower, and the current force level and [terms of service] will eventually result in insufficient conscripts," it said, adding that it needed to recruit volunteers committed to serving longer to "maintain credible war-fighting capabilities".

Taiwan's military has decided to gradually phase out conscription in favour of a fulltime professional force by the end of next year. However, a lack of incentives, including higher salaries and welfare packages, has made all-volunteer recruitment difficult, Taiwanese media and lawmakers have said.

Noting the mainland's military expansion, North Korea's growing nuclear threat, and escalating regional tensions over territorial claims in the South and East China seas, the ministry warned about the effects of a steadily declining military budget in recent years.

Yang said Taipei was not yet ready to establish military mutual trust or confidence-building measures with Beijing.

"The two sides must first establish political mutual trust," he said. "Although the Communists have stressed peaceful development of cross-strait relations … there is still a long, long way to go for the two sides to build adequate trust before they hold a political dialogue."