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Taiwan: National Security
Country Study > National Security


Armed Forces Overview: The president of the Republic of China is the commander in chief of the armed forces. The Ministry of Defense has various administrative and planning departments. The chief of the general staff oversees military operations through the army, navy, and air force general headquarters, each of which is led by its own commander in chief. The armed forces totaled about 290,000 personnel in 2004. Components are the army (approximately 200,000); navy (45,000), including a marine component (15,000); and air force (45,000). The active military structure is supported by a 1.6 million-strong Reserve Command, of which 1.5 million are army, 32,000 navy, 35,000 marines, and 90,000 air force personnel.

Foreign Military Relations: The United States is Taiwan’s most important source of military matériel and supports Taiwan with sales of defensive weaponry necessary to offset an attack from the People’s Republic of China.

External Threat: The major threat perceived by Taiwan is from the People’s Republic of China, which has periodically and emphatically stated that it will take control of Taiwan by force if necessary.

Defense Budget: Taiwan’s annual military expenditures in 2003 totaled US$6.6 billion, or US$293 per capita, almost 2.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The defense budget for 2005 represented 15.4 percent of the total government budget.

Major Military Units: The army has 3 army corps, an airborne special operations command, 10 infantry divisions, 2 mechanized infantry divisions, 3 mobile divisions, 2 air defense brigades, 6 independent armored brigades, 1 tank group, 2 air defense surface-to-air missile groups, 2 aviation groups, and 2 aviation brigades. Three offshore commands, with some 50,000 troops, are located on Kinmen, Matsu, and P’eng-hu islands. The navy is divided into three naval districts, with a headquarters base at Tsoying (north of Kao-hsiung) and bases at An-ping, Hsin-c’hu, Hua-lien, Chi-lung, Kenting, Ma-kung (P’eng-hu Islands), Suao, Tamshui, and Wuchi. Naval aviation units are based at Hua-lien, P’ing-t’ung, and Tsoying. The air force has 13 main air bases and has access to 21 civilian and military airports located throughout the country. The air force is organized into 34 combat, reconnaissance, airborne early warning, electronic warfare, search and rescue, transport, and helicopter squadrons. In 2004 Taiwan set up its new Missile Command under the Army General headquarters. It combines army air-defense missile units and navy antiship, land-based missile units (but not air force land-based missile units).

Major Military Equipment: The army’s major military equipment includes 300 main battle tanks, 230 light tanks, 650 armored personnel carriers, 997 pieces of towed artillery, 415 pieces of self-propelled artillery, coastal artillery pieces, more than 300 multiple rocket launchers, mortars, 240 surface-to-surface rockets and missiles, 1,000 antitank guided weapons, more than 500 recoilless launchers, and 400 air defense guns. The navy has 4 submarines, 11 destroyers, 21 frigates, 10 corvettes, 11 large patrol craft, 116 or more fast attack craft (missile), 4 ocean minesweepers, 12 coastal minesweepers, 3 land ships (dock), 18 land ships (tank) and landing ships (medium), 18 landing ships (craft utility), 1 survey ship, 1 combat survey ship, 1 repair ship, 5 or more transport ships, 3 or more salvage ships, and 2 support tankers. The naval aviation wing has shipborne and land-based helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The air force has 479 combat aircraft, including 3 fighter squadrons and 20 fighter and ground attack squadrons. The air inventory also includes various reconnaissance aircraft, electronic warfare aircraft, 4 airborne early warning aircraft, 1 squadron of search and rescue aircraft, 3 transport squadrons, 18 helicopters (but no armed helicopters), and 78 training aircraft, as well as a substantial number of air-to-surface, antiradiation, and air-to-air missiles.

Military Service: All males in good health when reaching 18 years of age are liable for 2 years of military service (2 months of basic training followed by 22 months of active duty). Individuals can be drafted as members of the armed forces between ages 19 and 45. National Guard service can substitute for active-duty armed forces service under certain conditions (for example, “average health,” poor economic status, or only son of parents more than 70 years of age).

Paramilitary Forces: The Coast Guard has about 22,000 members, mostly involved in guard duty in the Nan-sha (Spratly) and Tung-sha (Pratas) islands. They are organized into 8 local coast guard commands and 25 coast guard battalions. The Customs Service under the Ministry of Finance has about 650 armed officers. There also are 1,000 members of the Maritime Police, with about 38 armed patrol boats. Additionally, about 25,000 personnel belong to security groups under the National Police Administration, Ministry of Interior; Bureau of Investigation, Ministry of Justice; and Military Police, Ministry of Defense.

Foreign Military Forces: The Singapore armed forces have three training camps (for infantry, artillery, and armored forces) in Taiwan. In 2002–4 there was discussion by Singapore about possibly moving some or all of these facilities to China’s Hainan Island.

Police and Internal Security: The National Police Administration (NPA) of the Ministry of Interior, the NPA’s Criminal Investigation Bureau, and the Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau are responsible for law enforcement relating to internal security. The NPA handles national police administrative affairs and commands and supervises all police agencies in Taiwan. The subordinate organizations of the NPA include the Immigration Office, which handles international entries and exits; the Criminal Investigation Police, which is responsible for crime prevention and investigation; the National Highway Police, which maintains traffic order and safety and investigates traffic accidents on national freeways; the Aviation Police, which is in charge of air terminal and airport security; the Railway Police, which maintains railway security; the Taiwan Police College, which is in charge of police education; the Special Police, organized into six headquarters and responsible for guarding central government agencies, assisting with local security, protecting designated organizations, and enforcing security checks at airports; Special Police Provincial Headquarters, which is in charge of security for state-run industries; the National Parks Police Corps, which maintains security, order, and rescue work within national parks; the Aerial Police Brigade, which provides air mobilization support for other police forces; and the Chi-lung (Keelung), Hua-lien, Kao-hsiung, and T’ai-chung harbor police.

Terrorism: Taiwan has not been the target of international terrorist activities but has made preparations to safeguard itself against possible attacks. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Taiwan increased its own antiterrorist security and that of foreign entities in Taiwan, especially the United States. These measures include more police protection of foreign embassies, representative offices, and related organizations and the exchange of intelligence and information relative to security inspection, anti-money laundering, and energy security. The government also took measures to improve the collection of advance warnings of the arrival in Taiwan of members of terrorist organizations and information on the manufacture and trafficking of illegal biochemical agents and weapons of mass destruction. On the domestic front, an unknown group—or possibly an individual who a few days later committed suicide—attempted to assassinate President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Lu Hsiu-lien in T’ai-nan on March 19, 2004, during their presidential reelection campaign.

Human Rights: Personal freedoms are guaranteed in Article 8 of the Republic of China constitution. The same article prohibits extralegal arrest and detention, requires that the organization making an arrest or detention shall make the charges known and turn over the detainee to an appropriate court not later then 24 hours after the arrest, and allows trials only as prescribed by law. Military courts are limited to the prosecution of persons in active-duty military service. In articles 10 through 16, the constitution guarantees a wide range of rights, such as freedom of speech, teaching, writing, and publication; freedom of privacy of correspondence; freedom of religious belief; freedom of assembly and of association; the rights to live, work, and own property; the right to present petitions, lodge complaints, and institute legal proceedings; and the rights of election, recall, initiative, and referendum. Article 23 stipulates that these constitutionally guaranteed rights shall not be abridged by law “except as may be necessary to prevent infringement upon the freedoms of others, to avert imminent danger, to main social order, or to promote public welfare.” Taiwan’s Code of Criminal Procedure provides that no violence, threat, inducement, fraud, or other improper means shall be used against accused persons.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s human rights report for 2004, there were credible reports that police have occasionally physically abused persons in their custody and that such abuses most often occurred in local police stations where interrogations were not recorded and when attorneys often were not present. According to the government, instilling respect for human rights is part of basic police training, and the Central Police University, the Taiwan Police College, and police departments are strengthening human rights and legal education in the student curriculum and personnel training. Human rights groups have acknowledged these improvements. Prison conditions generally meet international standards, and human rights monitors are allowed in for inspections. However, conditions are crowded, and prisons are being expanded. An area that has been considered seriously problematic is violence against women, including domestic violence and rape. Taiwan is a significant transit point and, to a lesser extent, a destination for trafficked persons. Organized crime rings reportedly traffic in a small number of women for the purpose of prostitution. The majority of cases involve women from mainland China, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Last Updated: March 2005

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Taiwan was first published in 2005. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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