Friday, August 02, 2013

Forget the PLA, Taiwan’s military threatens itself

Protesters at the rally outside the MND HQ on July 20
The public outcry over the death of a conscript, and the government's poor handling of the crisis are threatening the very foundations of Taiwan's military 

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) couldn’t have done it better itself. More than anything in recent times, the controversy surrounding the July 4 death of a Taiwanese Army corporal is devastating morale and public confidence in the Taiwanese military, and risks striking a fatal blow to Taiwan’s efforts to create an all-volunteer force by 2015.

The death of 24-year-old Hung Chung-chiu from hyperthermia-induced disseminated intra-vascular coagulation, or DIC, three days before he was due to complete his obligatory service has sparked a major political storm in Taiwan, completely dominating the airwaves and leading to a large protest in front of the Ministry of National Defense headquarters on July 20. Nine days later, with public protests continuing, Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu tendered his resignation.

Hung died in hospital after being subjected to days of arduous exercises in extreme heat and without being given any water while in detention for the ostensible crime of bringing a cell phone equipped with a camera on the base. As more details about the case emerged, it became likely that the conscript was punished by his superiors — in a manner that broke military regulations — for uncovering corruption within his unit.

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo by the author)

NOTE: The following two paragraphs were cut by the editors as they were deemed too speculative:

With all this, Taiwan finds itself at an extremely dangerous junction, especially amid signs that Chinese President Xi Jinping is seeking to solve the “Taiwan question” once and for all with accelerated United Front tactics and increased pressure on the scandal-plagued and highly unpopular Ma administration. The timing of Hung’s death, and the unprecedented publicity that the scandal has received, is in itself suspicious, given that similar cases in the past had received almost no media attention. 

Maybe this is all a coincidence, and for Beijing, an extremely convenient one at that. But one can speculate that some black hand is at play behind the scenes helping break the back of Taiwan’s military without the PLA ever having to fire a single missile. As the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu once wrote, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Killing public support for Taiwan’s armed forces is certainly one way of achieving that.

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