The Taiwanese military now has more enlisted men and women on its payroll, thanks to salaries higher than the island's average. But the pay pales in comparison internationally. Photo: Steve Debenport / Getty Images

The term “22K” refers to the dismal reality facing Taiwanese college and university graduates when they enter the job market, as many employers have downsized their remuneration packages after the government promulgated a monthly salary of NT$22,000 (US$730) for graduating interns.

So when Taiwan’s Air Force Command put up a recruitment ad recently promising no less than NT$33,625 a month for the lowest rank of airmen, the command was soon inundated with applications from those eager to secure an “iron rice bowl”.

A recruitment ad by Taiwan’s Air Force Command offers NT$33,625 a month for the lowest airman rank.

Other rates on offer in the same ad include NT$39,345 per month for corporal equivalents and NT$47,835 for posts equivalent to second lieutenant.

Overall, the lure has been successful. But the pay rates on offer pale in international comparison.

To put things in perspective, an average wage-earner in Hong Kong (excluding government employees) took home some HK$15,500 (nearly US$2,000) per month in 2016 according to the city’s Census and Statistics Department. That figure equals NT$60,035.

Enlisted soldiers in the US Army, from the lowest E-1 rank to E-9, earned from US$1,531 to as much as US$4,800 per month in 2014, according to a report by US diversified media company Hearst.

US Army pay increases with each rank and with years of experience, and E-9 officials with longer experience could make a whopping US$7,500 per month, excluding special pay and allowances.

Taiwan’s economic slump and overall stagflation in wage growth are also felt in the military, even the armed forces’ salaries are already way higher than the NT$22,000 average.

In 2014 a Republic of China Air Force lieutenant with the airborne warning aircraft fleet was charged with selling classified military intelligence on the US-made E-2 Hawkeye early warning planes to mainland Chinese spies, and what he got in return, as was later revealed, was a lump sum of around NT$400,000, or US$13,200, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.

The island’s Defense Ministry reportedly made public a confession letter by the renegade, exhorting its generals and soldiers to stay loyal to Taiwan and resist infiltration by the mainland and any pecuniary advantage that mainland spies may dangle before them.

Members of the Legislative Yuan have called on President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration to expedite the long-overdue pay review for all enlisted frontline troops, and beef up pay and subsidies as an added incentive to draw fresh recruits and fend off retention as well as beckoning from the island’s enemies.