Tue, Nov 30, 2004 - Page 8 News List

'Soft coup' was merely anxiety

By Antonio Chiang江春男

After President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) spoke of a "soft coup d'etat," everyone has been rushing around madly looking for evidence either to prove or disprove the accusation. Numerous retired generals have come forward to clarify their position on the issue. Campaign tactics obviously play a part in all of this, but the shock to the military of the whole episode has been educational, and behind this experience hovers the question of nationalization of the military and reform of the national defense system.

Both former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen have had tense relations with the military leadership. The nature of presidential and military leadership places a premium on loyalty. But in terms of their political loyalty and their social backgrounds, they might as well be from different worlds.

The president is the commander-in-chief of the military, and members are all required to swear loyalty to him. But the military and the president continue to be suspicious of each other and seek opportunities to test each other.

When former minister of national defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) submitted his resignation immediately after the presidential election, his actions did not seem to meet the criteria of total loyalty to the country, for what the political situation required at the time was for the military to feel secure. As commander-in-chief, it is not difficult to imagine what Chen thought of Tang's action.

Many senior generals who were given their high office by Lee eventually turned against him, including the head of the presidential bodyguard. This set a bad precedent. Some of these generals believed they had a citizen's right to express their political opinion, and since Taiwan is not a fully mature democratic society, a serving four-star officer is able to serve as vice-chairman of a political party.

The participation of military figures in politics still casts a shadow over Taiwan's political scene, and their opposition to Lee and their attitude to Chen have also been a shocking lesson. This shadow that nobody wants to name directly is also present in the US arms sale issue. The political opinions and affiliation of many generals in the military has led the US to be cautious about selling high-tech weapons to Taiwan. The current arms procurement issue has underlined the seriousness of this problem. So when a small number of opposition legislators with close ties to the military come out publicly against arms procurement, the political message they are broadcasting is one that is very detrimental to the military. But looking at the issue calmly, Taiwan already has a solid foundation in the military's nationalization, and the "soft coup" is really just political rhetoric and not really about a coup at all.

The problem lies with a number of senior officers, whose careers were made largely during the period of the one-party state, and whose loyalty to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is considerably greater than to democracy. In contrast, the new generation of officers emphasize professionalism and are far more interested in the reform of the national defense structure.

The three branches of the armed services have different cultures and traditions. They have different characteristics and a degree of chauvinism is unavoidable. But in time of war, the mission and training of the three branches must be closely knit. A practical problem is that very few civil administrators are familiar with national defense issues and there is a lack of common experience and cooperation between military personnel and civilians, although in recent years there have been major improvements.

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