Ex-U.S. defense chief calls on Taiwan to extend military service

Visiting former U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Tuesday called on Taiwan's government to extend its existing four-month mandatory military training for conscripts to at least one year and to include women in such training in order to build a stronger defense against possible Chinese invasion.

"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 told reporters in Taipei.

Esper made the remarks during a press conference when asked to comment on how Taiwan can beef up its defense capabilities to better deter Beijing.

Currently, only Taiwanese men over 18 have to serve four months of military training.

Taiwanese women can choose to join the armed forces. The latest numbers show that of the over 180,000 military personnel in Taiwan, 15 percent are female.

Asked if he was suggesting both Taiwanese men and women should undergo compulsory military training, Esper told CNA that it is a decision for Taiwan's political leaders to make but he believes it is a necessary move.

"Women made tremendous contributions in our [U.S.] military and so I'm just articulating my view that I think you should probably make the best of your population," he said.

Citing the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine as an example, "Russians are making no discrimination between men and women, between children and seniors," he stressed.

Should China invade, it will be a matter of national survival and "it's going to be every man, woman and child fighting not just to preserve their country but their lives," he added.

Esper's comments coincide with recent calls made by Taiwanese lawmakers across party lines amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine after having seen Ukrainians put up a strong resistance.

Taiwanese men initially had to serve two to three years in the military as part of a conscription system adopted by the Republic of China government after it relocated to Taiwan in 1949.

Conscription in Taiwan was reduced to one year in 2008.

During the previous Kuomintang (KMT) administration under President Ma Ying-jeou (???), who was in power from 2008-2016, the government announced it would turn the nation's armed forces into a fully voluntary one in which conscripts are only required to undergo four months of military training starting in 2013.

The nation's military is currently a mainly volunteer force, with conscripts serving in a supporting role.

Meanwhile, Esper on Tuesday also called on Taiwan to significantly increase its defense budget, to procure and/or produce the capabilities consistent with an asymmetric warfare approach, including buying javelin, anti-tank system Stinger anti-air systems, and to revitalize and activate its reserve mobilization, as a stronger deterrent to China.

Asked by CNA how big an increase in the defense budget he believed was necessary, the former U.S. official said he hesitated to throw out a number without seeing what the strategy looks like.

However, he said that Taiwan should at least match U.S. defense expenditure, which stands at 3.2 percent of annual GDP, "to send a very powerful message about the seriousness of Taiwan's commitment."

Taiwan's annual defense spending is currently about 2 percent of GDP.

Esper said it seems like a lot of money to spend on defense, but national survival is at stake.

"It may not be done in one year. So that's what it means to grow, grow serve, so that you can make sure that you can address the conventional capabilities you need, particularly the asymmetrical capabilities that you need," he added.

Esper served as U.S. defense chief from 2019 to 2020 under former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Leading a delegation from the Atlantic Council, Esper arrived in Taipei on Monday for a four-day visit that will include discussions with Taiwan government officials and politicians about trade, economic, diplomatic and security issues.

He is joined by Barry Pavel, senior vice president and director of the Atlantic Council, and Stefano Stefanini, former permanent representative of Italy to NATO and currently a nonresident senior fellow at the think tank.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel