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Monday, 1 May, 2000, 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK
Military alternative in Taiwan
soldiers
There would be a full call-up if Taiwan went to war with China
By Francis Markus in Taipei

Taiwan has introduced an alternative to military service for those who do not want to or cannot for religious reasons serve in the military.

Officials say the scheme is one of the first of its kind outside Europe, and it comes despite the island's uneasy military stand-off with Beijing.

Despite the tension, the island's military has long been aware that what it needs, at least in peacetime, is a better trained, leaner and more specialised force.

Under legislation recently passed by parliament, young men of conscription age will, from Monday, be allowed to apply for a total of 5,000 alternative service placements.
patrol
Patrolling in Taiwanese waters
Some will be looking after the old or disabled, and all will be generally broadening their social experience, according to Interior Ministry official Michele Huang.

She said: "It's kind of a good opportunity for them to open their minds and maybe to have deeper insight into the life experience.

"All the time we have the threat from the men in China, in peacetime the soldiers are too many for the defence mechanism."

The scheme is expected to increase steadily in scale over the next few years, although officials say participants would be called back to serve in the military if Taiwan's stand-off with China should erupt into military conflict.

See also:

08 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
China brands Taiwan leader 'scum'
24 Mar 00 | Taiwan Election
Taiwan's man of the people
19 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan enters new political era
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