They Were Trained to Defend Taiwan From China. They Aren’t Sure They Can.

Cheng Yi, 28, remembers his four months of mandatory military service in Taiwan as a pretty laid-back experience. “It was really basic stuff,” he said, recalling the summer-camp atmosphere with morning runs and pushups.

He did learn how to take apart a gun and put it back together. But when it came to actually using it, training was limited. “Everyone got six bullets” on each trip to the shooting range, he said.

Cheng wouldn’t hesitate to pick up a gun again if he was ever called to fight, he said, but the 2014 stint in the military did not leave him prepared. “I’m not really good at shooting.”

The self-ruled island of more than 23 million people has for decades faced an existential threat from China, which has vowed to bring the democracy into its fold by force if necessary. In part because an attack seems unlikely to most Taiwanese, the government had over the years eased unpopular military service requirements, shortening its length from the traditional one or two years.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, together with a more hostile China under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, have jolted some Taiwanese from their complacency.

Many want to rethink the country’s defense strategy. The government will budget $19 billion for the military next year, a 13.9 percent increase that includes plans to buy more fighter jets and other hardware. But beyond dollar commitments, the island is considering a reversal to a longer conscription service.

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