In July 2000, Taiwan was the first Asian country to recognise conscientious objection - and to introduce alternative service for those not fit for military service.
Since the introduction of alternative service, some potential conscripts have ended up with a recommendation for alternative service after their physical examination. The main reasoning behind alternative service in Taiwan is not conscientious objection, but to make use of those young men who are not fit for military service, either because they are physically unfit, or because the ranks of the military are already filled. Consequently, alternative service in Taiwan is managed by the “manpower department” of the Taiwan military.
Alternative service in Taiwan
Every year about 17,000 young men can now perform alternative service, which last four months longer than military service. About one-third are referred to alternative service by the military - because they are considered unfit for military service. But there are also many people who apply for alternative service, and for a variety of reasons - only a minority of them are conscientious objectors.
The normal alternative service includes five weeks of military training; after that the “conscript” is assigned to a post in a wide range of areas: from the police, prison and related institutions, to social, medical and education services, environmental protection and cultural institutions.
There is only a very limited recognition of the right to conscientious objection. Those who apply to be recognised as a CO need to be members of a recognised religious group for at least two years. Besides a written application, they need to provide a certificate from their religious group, and then their application will be screened by the military, which will also involve an interview.
So far, there have been 71 CO applications, and all of them have been accepted. Most Taiwanese COs are Jehovah's Witnesses, but there are also 11 Buddhists among them. For conscientious objectors, alternative service lasts 33 months (which is likely to be reduced to 22 months), but their alternative service does not include any military training.
Unlike in South Korea, conscientious objection in Taiwan is a side issue - so far. The recognition of the right to conscientious objection was not really a controversial issue, as the discussion about alternative service focussed on the optimum use of available “manpower” for national interests. Thus COs could easily be incorporated into an alternative service system designed to make use of the labour of “surplus” conscripts.