As we’ve previously reported, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, China had been on this military exercise showcasing their naval and aerial military. But with tensions rising between China and Taiwan, the latter’s having a hard time enlisting brave soldiers to fight for their independence.
According to reports, a growing number of Taiwan’s soldiers are deliberately gaining weight to avoid being called into action. These soldiers are being dubbed the “strawberry soldiers.:
Last year, the US military raised concerns about Taiwan’s weakening defense. Aside from its limited artillery, its decreasing military forces have become a considerable concern. Though the US military has been a balanced supporter of Taiwan, US officials reportedly showed concern when they learned about Taiwan’s ground force personnel problems. Compared to China, Taiwan has roughly about 1/100 of China’s military population. Additionally, China has about 25 times the military budget of Taiwan. If something happens, the US is looking for Taiwan to at least hold the fort while waiting for reinforcements, but with Taiwan’s current military state, it might not be possible.
“From my perspective, we are really far behind what we need,” said Lee Hsi-min, chief of the general staff of Taiwan’s military until 2019.
Lee added that Taiwan has long been interested in investing more in its military and improving its “guerrilla-style warfare.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said that the US is committed to supporting Taiwan’s ability for self-defense but has not confirmed if they have any definitive ways of showing support (military aid, financial or humanitarian).
As of writing, Taiwan’s volunteer population is only about 165,000 soldiers (dropping significantly from their 275,000 number three years ago). But, about 445,000 troops (185,000 regulars and 260,000 reservists) can reportedly be called into action if a direct conflict happens.
Taiwan also launched new and improved military salaries over the past five years to encourage sign-ups, but this is not pushing the Taiwanese into the fold. A former deputy minister in Taiwan’s mainland affairs council, Alexander Huang, said one of the reasons the country’s military force is low is because the general population doesn’t believe China would launch a direct attack.”
“Even in the past two years, when we started to see the trade war and U.S.-China strategic competition, (and) shows of force by (China’s military) around our air defense identification zone, poll numbers tell us that Taiwan’s perception in a general sense is that China won’t do it,” he said.
However, with just the recent skirmish last week, with Chinese forces live-firing around Taiwan, it’s not impossible to think that China could actively retaliate against Taiwan. Additionally, just in 2021, there were about 260 sorties near the island’s southwest coast and another 380 similar sorties in different locations.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen announced last year that they were increasing the military budget to 10% (about %15.4 billion). The budget would cover US arms purchases, including anti-ship missiles, drones, and rocket launchers.
However, even with government support, the country’s having difficulty mustering forces, especially the younger ones. In an interview with WSJ, two men who wished to be anonymous said they intentionally put weight to avoid being called into the military. They also confirmed that this practice is commonplace in the country.
The newer generation also does not see the value of joining the military in a senseless war simply because of Taiwan’s longstanding history of “endless misconduct and mismanagement.” Additionally, even though the military budget and salaries have increased, it still didn’t invite younger generations who have better options in the private sector.
In an interview, 22-year-old Peter Liao also shared that he’s not “OK to go to war.” He was one of the youngsters who had just finished their mandatory four-month military service last July. After that, he did a five-week training at a cadet center before being assigned to a military base for the rest of his training.
“It was like a cram school as there were many things, various doctrines, in particular, to learn,” he said. “But before I could fully digest anything, the instructors started cramming us with new things.
“Take cleaning or disassembling a gun, for example. I learned that in the classroom, but if you asked me to do it again in a field operation, I suspect I couldn’t remember how to do it.”
And with this mandatory training, Liao said it didn’t entice him to join the military. They had limited experience, and there were no actual “mock field operations as the supervisors were afraid that we would get hurt.”
“So if you asked me if I went to war would I be able to fight against the enemy? I can tell you definitely I wouldn’t be able to do so.”