David Lo, spokesman of Taiwan's Defense Ministry, gestures during a March 26 press conference in Taipei. (Sam Yeh / AFP)
TAIPEI — Efforts to make Taiwan’s military an all-volunteer and more professional service — which suffered a setback after the death of a young corporal — have regained momentum following a pay rise, officials said Tuesday.
“Now we feel relatively optimistic. The outlook is turning brighter after our efforts,” defense ministry spokesman David Lo told AFP.
The ministry said its full-year recruitment target of more than 10,000 soldiers had almost been met in the first four months.
As of April 20, 8,634 civilians had applied to become professional soldiers and 1,073 conscripts had agreed to transfer as volunteers.
The figures are a stark contrast to last September, when the ministry announced a two-year delay to the end of its decades-old conscription policy due to insufficient recruitment.
Lo said a pay raise which took effect on Jan. 1 may have been a major incentive.
Volunteer soldiers and sergeants received an additional monthly allowance of up to Tw$4,000 ($133), bringing the lowest-ranked private’s monthly salary to Tw$33,625 ($1,120).
The ministry now plans to launch an all-volunteer service on Jan. 1, 2017, although men aged over 20 will still have to undergo four months of military training.
Lo also credited a better understanding of human rights in the military, an upgrade of dormitories, opportunities for academic studies and help with finding jobs after soldiers are demobbed.
A Taiwanese court in March sentenced 13 military officials to up to eight months in prison over the death of a young conscript last year.
The death, allegedly caused by excessive exercise as punishment for taking a smartphone onto his base, triggered massive street protests and brought down the then-defense minister.
Currently all men over age 20 must serve one year in the military.
The government hopes professional soldiers will enlist for longer, creating a better trained and more highly skilled military.
Taiwan’s military of about 215,000 is relatively large for its population of 23 million. It is a legacy of decades of tensions with China, which still regards the island as part of its territory after the two split at the end of a civil war in 1949.