TAIPEI - Taiwan will reduce compulsory military service from one year to four months, the defense ministry said Dec. 14, in what is widely seen as a first step towards scrapping conscription altogether.
Benefiting from improved ties with mainland China, the island's young men will have to spend shorter time in uniform beginning from early 2015, after parliament passed an amendment to the conscription law late Dec. 13, it said.
"We are gradually introducing a professional military, so there will be no holes in our defense capabilities," said David Lo, the defense ministry's spokesman.
The ministry plans to eventually maintain a permanent professional military of 215,000 soldiers, down from 275,000 conscripted and professional soldiers at present, he said.
Phasing out conscription was a campaign pledge by President Ma Ying-jeou in the 2008 election, and he has stressed that a "small, elite and strong" voluntary military rather than conscription is best for the island's defense.
Taiwan's relatively large army is a legacy of decades of tensions with China, however ties have improved markedly since Ma took office three years ago on a Beijing-friendly platform. He is running for a second four-year term in January.