TAIWAN - Taiwan's military managed to recruit only 1,847 soldiers or 31 per cent of its targeted number in the first half of the year, raising doubts over whether it can transition smoothly from a decades-old conscription system to one built around professionals by 2015.
To make matters worse, the death of a conscript three days before completing his military service this month has aroused anger among young Taiwanese. This is expected to exacerbate what observers say is an unfeasible initiative given the island's small population and young people's distaste for rules-bound jobs.
The army's recruitment shortfall was flagged by the United Daily News (UDN) on Sunday and quickly followed up by other media outlets amid coverage of corporal Hung Chung-chiu's death.
Mr Hung, 23, who was due to begin graduate school in September, died of heat stroke after collapsing during allegedly excessive physical training on July 3.
About 30,000 people, mostly young men and parents, marched to the defence ministry last Saturday to protest against the death.
Lawmaker Hsueh Ling of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party was quoted by UDN as saying she had received calls from parents of seven people who had signed up with the military, asking how their children could quit.
What is now at risk is President Ma Ying-jeou's election pledge to transform Taiwan's military into a smaller but professional force by 2015.
Under the initiative, the current one-year compulsory military training for all adult Taiwanese males will be reduced to four months beginning in 2015.