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Taiwan mulls recruiting from KMT Army descendants
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-01-19 03:41 PM
Some Taiwanese politicians, desperate to fill boots in the nation’s push to field an all-volunteer military, have proposed that descendants of Chinese soldiers who fled to northern Burma and Thailand in 1949 after the end of the Chinese Civil War be granted ROC citizenship if they join the Army. The scenario is not all that unique. Russia, which is also looking for military volunteers, has offered to allow people to emigrate to Russia if they agree to serve in the military first.

In addition, the US military has always had a fairly high component of immigrant troops. Currently migrants make up 4% of US military personnel, while non-citizens of prime military age (18-29) represent about 2.2% of the American population. Since September 11, 2001, about 5% of those serving in the US military have been migrants. During the American Civil War, about 20% of the Union Army was foreign-born troops, and for the rest of the 19th century foreigners made up between 5 and 10% of the American military.

Like many other nations during the last two decades, Taiwan is finding that moving from conscription to an all-volunteer military is not all that easy. In two years of stepped-up recruiting the military has been able to sign up only about 30% of the number of soldiers it needs to be all-volunteer by 2014.

The switch to an all-volunteer force was made because of the growing unpopularity of conscription in a military that until the 1990s was made up of ethnic Chinese officers and NCOs commanding a largely ethnic Taiwanese force of conscripts. During the last decade or so, the predominance of the ethnic Chinese minority in both the government and military has declined sharply, and calls for an end to conscription have increased.

The leadership of the military in Taiwan trace their origins back to the remnants of the Nationalist forces that crossed the Taiwan Strait with Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. The mass migration brought two million Nationalist soldiers and supporters to an island already occupied by six million Taiwanese. Although many of the senior officers are now ethnic Taiwanese, old attitudes persist in the military, and unless there are some serious adjustments in attitudes toward the military among the general population, the armed forces could continue to shrink and find their combat readiness being impacted by a shortage of volunteers.

In 1949 a smaller force of about 20,000 Nationalist soldiers fled to the northern areas of Burma and Thailand, which had long been thinly populated and rather loosely governed by the respective national governments. The new communist government in China was soon distracted by the Korean War (1950-53) and generally ignored the Nationalist troops in Burma and Thailand. While some of the Nationalist troops who got into northern Burma and Thailand carried out raids across the border into China, most of them settled down and married local women.

By the 1960s about half of them had accepted invitations to migrate to Taiwan. Some of those who remained turned to helping Burma and Thailand control communist guerillas, while others formed private armies and became involved in drug-running. Over the years, however, younger descendants of the soldiers have lost interest in the drug business and are looking for other opportunities. Although these descendants of the Nationalist Army are now mostly Burmese and Thai, many speak Chinese and many still consider themselves to be Chinese. For them, a few years in the army may be a small price to pay for citizenship, and recruiters in Taiwan would like to give the measure a try.

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