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Let the military perform its duty
Two battles have to be fought during [this] month's legislative elections: one domestic and one across the Taiwan Strait. The cross-strait battle is real, while the domestic one is an empty battle. If that also were to develop into a real battle, it would be to the detriment of the country.
President Chen Shui-bian's statements regarding a seven-day "soft coup" attempt are very sensitive allegations. Important pan-blue camp politicians have either struck back at Chen or have tried to distance themselves from the controversy. The problem is that during those seven days, the people of Taiwan could see how some politicians were engaged in revolution. They called for the help of supporters and they took action, but with the public being reasonable and the military remaining neutral, things did not develop further. The question is if this was all a matter of individual behavior, or if the leadership of a political party supported it. If top leaders did not agree and it was all a matter of individual actions, then there is no reason to get so agitated and make people think Chen has hit the nail on the head.
People First Party Chairman James Soong's hurried comparison of the resignations of US Secretary of State Colin Powell and top CIA leaders after the US presidential election with the resignation of generals in Taiwan is merely the result of Soong being eager to strike back at Chen. The polarization during the US election campaign dissipated quite quickly once the election was over. Did Senator John Kerry follow the example of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan and Soong and bring the public with him to the gates of the White House to wave banners and demand that President George W. Bush step down? Did he call for his supporters to attack the White House? Which US members of Congress followed Chiu Yi's example and led the public in attacks on government authorities in the name of revolution? Did anyone call for the US military to rebel? If nothing like this happened, then how could there be any kind of comparison?
As for the unnamed retired generals, there is no need for them to come forward to explain themselves. Anyone doing so does it at their own risk, since it is the same as admitting their guilt. The military's duty is to protect the nation, and since it has already been put under the command of the state, everything must be done to avoid having it being embroiled in electoral struggles.
It is also a fact that China-friendly politicians took the opportunity to sow discord between the military and government by making statements aimed at confusing the military. This is cause for alarm. As Taiwan's election campaign is blazing ahead, People's Liberation Army (PLA) submarines have passed close to Taiwan when entering Japanese territorial waters, bringing still more tension to the already tense Sino-Japanese relationship. Given that the submarines stayed for several hours, it was not a matter of carelessly entering Japanese waters, nor was there an attempt to offer timely explanations or apologies after the submarines were pursued by the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces.
The "technical problems" excuse offered by China later does not mean that the submarines were experiencing technical problems, but rather that technical problems occurred when trying to come up with a satisfactory explanation. Since several days of investigation to clear things up were required before an apology was offered, it seems it was more of a political problem.
International military observers have offered several conjectures and comments about the incident, including intelligence gathering, surveying, provocation and so on. But no one has as of yet ventured a guess as to whether it is a reflection of a political struggle within China's top leadership, or if someone in the PLA is acting on his own, trying to cause a deterioration in the Sino-Japanese relationship by forcing Chinese President Hu Jintao to take a tougher diplomatic stance. Something like this used to be unimaginable. But since the curtain has fallen on strongman politics in China and advantage is everything, this possibility cannot be completely eliminated.
Because Taiwan has provided Japan (and probably the US) with intelligence regarding the PLA submarines' transgressions, other countries are becoming increasingly confident in Taiwan's self-defense capabilities as they raise their level of alertness against the PLA. But the nation's military is once again becoming the focus of public debate. China-friendly politicians may once again want the military to provide China with detailed information, all in the name of the freedom of expression. I trust that the military has already passed the democratic test and knows how to face vicious questioning by these politicians without being swayed.
The national army is charged with the important task of keeping Taiwan secure. Politicians should let the military off the hook, refrain from making it the focus of media attention, and allow it to concentrate on military matters. They should not let the army become the source of friction. If they really want to show concern for the military, they should hurry to pass the arms procurement budget, thereby increasing both military and public's security and deterring China's armed threat, instead of acting as China's accomplices.
Paul Lin is a commentator based in New York.
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