Ma feels that 215,000-man military still too large for Taiwan

02/13/2014 07:11 PM
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Taipei, Feb. 13 (CNA) Despite efforts to streamline the nation's armed forces, the 215,000-man strong military is still too large at 0.9 percent of Taiwan's total population, according to President Ma Ying-jeou.

Meeting Thursday with Robert Willard, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command from 2009 to 2012, Ma said that a ratio of 0.6-0.7 percent of the population is enough to ensure sufficient defensive capabilities.

The figures, which represent a military of between 143,000 and 167,000 servicemen, are lower than those announced as part of the Ministry of National Defense streamlining plan earlier this year.

The defense ministry has said its goal is to trim down the military from 2015 to 2019 to eventually produce a professional fighting force of between 170,000 and 190,000 personnel.

Ma explained Taiwan's efforts to adjust the organization of its defense apparatus and restructure the military to Willard, who is in Taiwan as head of a delegation the National Bureau of Asian Research, a Seattle-based think tank.

The Republic of China had a force of 600,000 when the government was moved from mainland China to Taiwan in 1949, Ma noted. Recent streamlining efforts reduced armed forces personnel to 450,000 in 1998 before the number eventually dropped to the current 215,000, he said.

Ma also took the opportunity to reiterate the government's determination to shift toward an all-volunteer force.

He listed incentives like higher pay for volunteer soldiers and non-commissioned officers and opportunities to learn skills that are transferable to the civilian workplace.

Ma said he remains confident that Taiwan can make the shift to an all-volunteer force smoothly.

But the shift has been marked with hiccups, as disappointing recruitment numbers has forced the military to push back the implementation of an all-volunteer force from 2015 to 2017.

To hit the 2017 goal, the armed forces will need to recruit more than 10,000 servicemen annually in 2015 and 2016, and around 7,000 annually beginning in 2017, according to Defense Minister Yen Ming.

(By Lee Shu-hua and Elaine Hou)ENDITEM/WH

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