Taiwan to Raise 'Temple Militia' of Holy Villagers to Fight off China Invasion

Taiwan plans to mobilize temple and church staff as part of the island's reserve force in its latest reorganization centered on a future war effort amid escalating military intimidation by China.

During a hearing in Taiwan's legislature on Monday, Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told lawmakers that policy planners hope to expand the country's reservists by integrating volunteers from local Buddhist and Taoist temples.

He made the comments while defending the government's plan to establish a comprehensive new reserve mobilization agency, which will oversee the continued reform of Taiwan's reserve force—often described as insufficient in number and inadequately trained.

A widening of the current call-up pool, which only includes volunteer police and firefighters, will require amendments to the country's Civil Defense Act.

Chu Sen-tsuen, an official with the ministry's mobilization office, explained that the latest plans were a response to "the increased enemy threat faced by Taiwan."

The integration will include community leaders and members of non-governmental organizations, churches and temples, he said on Tuesday, adding that these groups already play a key role during major emergencies by assisting in disaster relief or providing food and shelter.

Local leaders will be invited to discuss feasible mobilization plans, said Chu.

Taiwan Temple Militia to Help Fight China
Soldiers take aim during an annual drill at the a military base in the city of Hualien, Taiwan, on January 30, 2018. MANDY CHENG/AFP via Getty Images

The long-awaited modernization of Taiwan's reserve force will start with the trial of a new call-up policy in 2022. From next February, reservists will be called up more frequently and for more days in order to step up combat readiness.

The initiative is expected to launch in earnest in 2024, according to the defense ministry's schedule.

Defense analysts say it is unlikely so-called "temple militia" will fight on the front lines in the event of a Chinese invasion of the democratically ruled island. However, the extra manpower—decentralized and based around places of worship in villages or townships—still could contribute to the wider war effort by mounting insurgencies and defenses of key roads and bridges thanks to geographical familiarity.

While Taiwan's standing force numbers around 185,000, and it can muster another 260,000 in reserves, it is the island's 23-million strong population that is sometimes described as the unknown element during a potential Taiwan Strait conflict.

This Friday, the country's largest military drills, the annual Han Kuang exercise, are scheduled to begin. Phase one—lasting a record eight days until April 30—is a computer-assisted simulation of a full-scale Chinese invasion, which Taiwan's armed forces are expected to repel for a full week.

Live-fire exercises marking the second phase of the drill are scheduled for mid-July.