As the threat from Beijing grows, Taiwan has increasing problems with its defense: The Taiwanese military is shrinking due to the low birth rate. The government has only one solution for this.
Taiwan feels increasingly threatened by China: the Communist Party is adopting ever more aggressive tones in order to achieve “reunification” with the self-governing island of Taiwan – if necessary by force. But Taiwan is not well prepared for a war: A gap in the defense plan is causing problems for the country.
The democratic island faces the challenge of recruiting enough young men to be able to achieve military goals. But the problem cannot be solved by increasing the budget: the Interior Ministry has indicated that the lack of staff is due to the low birth rate.
The democratic island of Taiwan, with 23.5 million inhabitants, faces the great power China and thus the largest army in the world. The People’s Republic’s military has two million soldiers, while the Taiwanese army has just 170,000 armed forces.
Su Tzu-yun, director of the Taiwan Institute of National Defense and Security Research, told CNN that within the next decade, the number of young adults who are able-bodied will drop by as much as a third. This means that Taiwan has too few soldiers to withstand a possible Chinese attack.
And the shortage is getting worse: According to the ministry, Taiwan’s population has been falling since 2020. Earlier this year, the ministry warned that the number of military personnel in 2022 would be the lowest in a decade. And the birthrate is expected to continue falling: A new report by Taiwan’s National Development Council predicts that the island will expect about 20,000 fewer births per year by 2035. By 2035, Taiwan will even be the country with the lowest birth rate in the world.
Low wages and a society that focuses on overtime, combined with high living costs, are responsible for the fact that young people have little time to start a family. The future perspectives resulting from the conflict with China also influence the life planning of the Taiwanese.
The ongoing decline thus poses a major challenge for Taiwan’s future. So how can the island state now recruit able-bodied soldiers?
Extending conscription could be a solution. For example, there is a debate about whether the government should increase the length of compulsory military service, reports CNN. However, this would mean a U-turn on the part of the government: the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the largest opposition party, the Kuomintang, had reduced conscription from more than two years to the current four months in recent years, and this could now be changed again.
On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said such plans should be released before the end of the year, according to CNN. However, the government’s proposal does not meet with just encouragement: Some young students in Taiwan are expressing their frustration on the Taiwanese social media service “PTT”, the report goes on to say. The general public, however, appears to be behind the proposal, according to opinion polls. Accordingly, 75.9 percent of those surveyed consider an extension to one year to be sensible – only 17.8 percent are against it.
There don’t seem to be any other options for the time being. Su Tzu-yun, director of Taiwan’s National Defense and Security Research Institute, told CNN: “The extension of conscription is a national security issue for us. We are facing an increasing threat and we need more firepower and manpower.”
But this does not mean that Taiwan is an outlier in East Asia – the birth rate is also falling in Japan, South Korea and China. However, the situation for Taiwan is more difficult because the population base is smaller than other countries with similar problems. Above all, the security threat from China makes the low birth rate a massive problem.
The decline in the young population also has a long-term impact on the performance of Taiwan’s economy, which is an important pillar of the country. Despite its small population, Taiwan is the 21st largest economy in the world. Most of its economic strength comes from its leading role in the manufacture of semiconductor chips, which are essential for smartphones and computers.
The pioneering role in the production of semiconductor chips offers the West a strong incentive to intervene in a military invasion of Beijing. But if economic strength dwindles due to staff shortages, the threat from Beijing could grow.
Still, there are those who aren’t worried about Taiwan’s low birth rate. Alice Cheng, a professor of sociology at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, told CNN that just a few decades ago there were warnings of food shortages caused by a population explosion.
She goes on to say that if the low birth rate reflects an improvement in women’s rights, it’s not a bad thing. Because worldwide it can be observed that birth rates fall as soon as the educational level of women improves, according to Cheng.