Korea to cut troop numbers to 500,000 by 2022
Korea will reduce the number of full-time military personnel by 80,000 over the next two years, as part of attempts to alleviate the impact from the country’s declining birthrate and rapidly aging population, the finance minister said Wednesday.
During a meeting of economic ministers, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hong Namki said the government will cut the number of personnel in the standing armed forces to 500,000 by 2022.
The move is part of the government’s efforts to reform the military in a way that increases reliance on advanced technologies and to cope with changes in modern warfare amid a decreasing human resources pool for military service.
To deal with the shrinking human resources, Hong said the government is considering expanding conscription to naturalized citizens, who have been able to choose whether or not to join the Korean armed forces.
In addition, it will seek to increase the portion of women serving in the military to 8.8 percent of all officers by 2022 from the current 6.2 percent. The maximum age limit for joining as a non-commissioned officer will go up from 27 to 29.
Under the government’s plan, the number of people to be drafted into police, maritime police and fire departments will decrease gradually. Alternative service, which allows engineers or engineering students to serve at research institutes or work at related companies instead of serving in the military, will continue for the time being, considering the need for qualified people at small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) under the ongoing sluggish economy.
The measures come as the number of people able to serve in the military is projected to fall to 225,000 in 2025 and 161,000 in 2038, compared with 360,000 in 2016.
According to the finance minister, the government will also recalculate the number of teacher training positions, to cope with the looming shortage of children attending schools. Gyms and libraries in schools without students will be opened for use by local residents.
The economic ministers’ meeting also discussed measures to use hallyu, or the Korean wave, in support of marketing campaigns to help SMEs increase exports, given its global popularity.
Hong said a “Mini KCON” will be held in the Middle East and several other regions where hallyu fever has been booming lately.
KCON, an abbreviation of K-Concert & Convention, is an annual hallyu convention held in different locations worldwide.
The minister promised the government will increase its investment in manufacturers of hallyu-related products and give them preferential treatment, so as to boost ties between hallyu marketing and the manufacturing industry.
The government also plans to help SMEs sell their products on global online marketplaces such as Amazon and Shopee, Southeast Asia’s leading e-commerce platform.