Taiwan’s military announced plans Tuesday to include women in its reservist training for the first time this year, as the island tries to bolster its forces against threats from China.
Self-ruled, democratic Taiwan lives under the constant fear of a Chinese invasion, as Beijing claims the island a part of its territory to be taken one day, by force if necessary.
China’s sabre-rattling has intensified in recent years under President Xi Jinping, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has further deepened worries in Taiwan that Beijing might move similarly.
Taipei’s defence ministry said it would allow around 200 discharged female soldiers to enrol in voluntary reservist trainings from the second quarter of this year, as part of efforts to boost the overall back-up force.
“This is the first year to include women in the reservists training so this year will be a trial programme,” said Major General Yu Wen-cheng from the ministry’s All-Out Defence Mobilisation Agency.
“We will plan the training capacities according to the number of applicants.”
The voluntary programmes aim to “strengthen the effectiveness of the retraining of reserve troops in combat skills to help improve the combat capabilities of reservists,” he told reporters.
Currently, only Taiwanese men are required to do mandatory military service and reservist training, although women can volunteer to serve in the armed forces.
Many military analysts have urged Taiwan to do more to boost its reserves and prepare its civilian population for defence, including allowing more women to train.
Last month, Taiwan announced it was increasing mandatory military service for men to one year — up from four months — citing the threat from an increasingly hostile China.
Some lawmakers have proposed including women in some form of mandatory service.
President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s first female president, said the extension of military service was necessary to “ensure the democratic way of life for our future generations”.
“No one wants war… but my fellow countrymen, peace will not fall from the sky.”
Taiwan is a mountainous island and would present a formidable challenge to an invading force, but it is massively outgunned, with 89,000 ground forces compared with China’s one million, according to Pentagon estimates.
Taiwan and China split at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, and Tsai has said becoming a part of China is not acceptable to the people of the island.
Xi, China’s most assertive leader in decades, has said that what he calls the “reunification” of Taiwan must not be passed on to future generations.