Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Treason in high office

I had promised myself that this week — my first time off since October 2009 — I would stay away from the computer as much as possible and try, however unfeasible this was, to avoid Taiwanese politics. Knowing myself, I was aware that it would be impossible for me to be completely insulated, and admittedly I have taken an occasional peek at the news and some of the online Taiwan forums of which I am a member.

Six days into my vacation, however, I find it impossible to stay away from the keyboard — especially in light of recent developments in cross-strait affairs that, try as I might to ignore them, came to my attention. Somehow I think this urge to break radio silence, if you will, stems in part from the fact that I am currently reading Robert D. Kaplan’s Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American military in the air, at sea, and on the ground. The reason I say this is that, reading of Kaplan’s time in the company of members of the armed forces made me realize that I, too, have come to know such people in the Taiwanese military during my visits to military bases across the country. I have dined with and been briefed by officer from all the ranks, from young Taiwanese doing their compulsory service all the way to generals, at bases from Tsuoying to Penghu, and from all the services. I have been flown several times on Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft, been treated with respect and friendliness by press officers, young soldiers and veteran officers alike (in fact, I have enjoyed far greater access to the military here than I did as a graduate student at the Royal Military College of Canada or as an intelligence officer in Canada). In other words, just like Kaplan, I have come to know some of them fairly intimately and to appreciate the sacrifices they have made by choosing a career path that is far less rewarding financially than ordinary jobs in the private sector, and is obviously more dangerous. For many career officers, defending the nation, is a way of life, a calling, and we should all be thankful for that.

Now, let me get to my point. As the military struggles to keep the widening military gap in the Taiwan Strait as narrow as possible despite low morale and five years of cuts in defense spending growth (with three consecutive years of contraction since Ma Ying-jeou [馬英九] came into office),* the Ma administration has chosen a path of conciliation with Beijing that it seems unable to depart from. Despite claims of warming ties across the Taiwan Strait, there is ample evidence that China has retained an overly aggressive policy vis-à-vis Taiwan, in both the political and military spheres. There have been, for example, countless instances of Chinese “goodwill” translating into attempts to erase Taiwanese identity at international bodies as well as movie festivals.

The past week alone points to an accelerating program to undermine Taiwanese sovereignty rather than give it the international space that, we are told, would result from closer ties between Taipei and Beijing. Last week, amid pressure from Beijing, the Philippines ignored pleas from Taiwanese authorities and illegally deported 14 Taiwanese to China for their alleged involvement in a scam ring. In other words, greater international space for Taiwan now means that second-rate third world countries like the Philippines can treat Taiwan with disrespect.

Earlier this week, Taiwan announced it would not oppose the Asian Medical Students Association (AMSA) — an organization of which Taiwan is a co-founder — allowing China in as a member. Not happy with likely membership, Beijing is now seeking to change Taiwan’s title from “AMSA-Taiwan” to “AMSA-Taiwan, China.” So much for reciprocity and “win-win.” 

And now it has emerged that Major General Lo Hsien-che, head of the Communication, Electronics and Information Division at Army Command Headquarters, has allegedly been working as a Chinese spy since 2004, in what some media are already calling the greatest national security breach since the lifting of Martial Law in 1987, if not in the past half-century. Given Lo’s access, critical defense components such as the Po Sheng (“Broad Victory”) system that integrates military communications and facilitates operational jointness, the Army’s land communications system, Apache helicopters and a subterranean fiber-optic communications network may have been compromised. (The Ministry of National Defense on Tuesday said that despite “détente” with Taiwan, China has increased its intelligence-gathering activities relating to its military.)

Lo’s case is only the most recent in a series of military scandals to emerge since Ma launched his policy of engagement. What this means, to get back to my initial point, is that the young men and women who every day put their lives on the line to defend Taiwan are doing so amid the increasing likelihood that their entire system may have been compromised, so much so that in the event of war in the Taiwan Strait, their ability to counter Chinese aggression would be severely handicapped. Countless Taiwanese could be killed not because of lack of training or equipment, but because the Ma government looked the other way when, under the guise of “goodwill,” China stole national security secrets and dug holes in our system as termites would to a log. To allow the armed services to be thus undermined and to do nothing to remedy the situation — which is exactly what the Ma administration has been doing, in the name of warm relations — comes very close to treason.

One could then ask: What can be done? At the very least, a responsible government that is truly committed to defending Taiwan and the way of life its people sacrificed so much to achieve would take all these incidents into consideration and temporarily suspend cross-strait negotiations. Given the recent incidents, a strong president would look at the visit by Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) scheduled for later this month and cancel it as a means to signal discontent and perhaps bring about a change in behavior on Beijing’s part. Failure to do so (the likeliest scenario) invites more such behavior and crosses the line from rapprochement into capitulation. 

I now count some members of the armed forces as friends; I would not want any of them to be needlessly killed just because their commander in chief either lied to us or deluded himself into thinking that, despite ample evidence to the contrary, Beijing had honorable intentions toward Taiwan and its people.

* A US-based official involved in arms sales to Taiwan recently asked me to provide data on the Taiwanese military budget. Based on my calculations, defense budgets from 2006-2011 were as follows:

NTD(bn) USD(bn) %GDP change (year on year)
297.2 9.27 (a)  -0.33%
297.4 9.3 2.17 -6.9%
318.6 10.17 2.2 -4.22%
334 11.5 2.94 +9.86%
304 10.51 2.69 +20.63%
252 8.7 2.21 --

My data comes from media reports (which tend to vary slightly) as well as Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) statistics for the Central Government General Budget (legal budget rather than proposed budget). My USD figures are at the current exchange rate and thus were slightly lower from 2009 downwards, given that the greenback was stronger against the NT.

(a) As GDP for 2011 cannot be calculated at present, it is impossible to determine the percentage of the defense budget to GDP. It is nevertheless expected to be below 2.5%.

1 comment:

jerome in vals said...

Luo had been sought out by Zhongnanhai when he was posted in the US, during the CSB years.

I can recall many instances during those years when the Taipei Chinese wanted CSB dead. Remember the honor guard who had to fight an urge to use his weapon against CSB?

I also remember Taiwanese BBS boards displaying posts that called for desertion in the event of CSB’s antics triggering a Chinese attack. It became obvious to me at the time that the ROC army had jumped allegiances and could not be relied upon to safeguard Taiwan.

Now, ask yourself what is the ratio of 1949 Chinese offspring in the ROC armed forces, especially among those elites of the armed forces that get training in US schools. Investigate Luo’s origins.

I have a hunch that in those CSB years, Luo’s mainlander background (to be verified) made him an easy prey to his Chinese handlers’ sweet talk.

Once you’ll understand the role of ROC in the pecking order on the SFPT cession Taiwan, you’ll desist from calling on the US to provide ROC with weapons it does nor need because the US never expected ROC to defend US occupied Japanese Taiwan.

The US executive spares no pains in promoting the belief that it has no design on Taiwan. But the success of its disappearing act depends on equally strenuous efforts on the part of the Taihoku Chinese to burry the SFPT. It would then make sense for the Taiwanese to keep the truth of SFPT in plain sight.

What you see is blocking your sight.

Jerome Besson
Valenciennes – France