The struggle to recruit worries some US defense experts.
While an attack may seem unlikely, China has never renounced the use of force in its bid to bring Taiwan under its control. It has an estimated 1,500 missiles aimed at the island across the 160km-wide Taiwan Strait.
Former American Institute in Taiwan director William Stanton told a China-wary audience in Taipei in March that declining military budgets and other signs of a weakened commitment to military readiness have left Taiwan vulnerable to Chinese attack and made it easier for Chinese spies to penetrate its armed forces.
“I worry [about Taiwan] because I sometimes think the Taiwanese people do not worry enough,” Stanton said.
One Taiwanese proudly bucking the trend is Kung Yun-ru, 22, a recent university graduate in design.
She said her family’s deep-seated military tradition — both her grandfather and uncle served in the army — helped cement her decision to report to one of Taipei’s two main recruiting depots and volunteer to become an officer in the military police.
“My motives are entirely patriotic,” she said, filling out her enlistment forms with a friend. “I love Taiwan and I’m definitely not afraid of the Chinese communists.”
However, Taipei university student Zhuang Ming-zheng, 20, questioned the whole idea of military readiness.
“We have good economic relations with the mainland [China], so there’s no reason to think that an attack will ever happen,” Zhuang said.