The campaign for the Jan. 14 presidential election, which is still neck-and-neck, has included three televised debates between the candidates. It is regrettable that all three failed to use the debates to present a substantive and feasible policy platform. Even more worrying, they also apparently lack a comprehensive and forward-looking national defense policy.
Over the past nearly four years, the weakest link in President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) policies has been national defense reform. Here are a few of the 22 policy items aimed at national defense proposed by Ma and his vice presidential running-mate, Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), in the 2008 election campaign, and their results: the plan to complete the transition from a conscription to a voluntary military in four to six years has been repeatedly postponed because of a lack of funding; the pledge that the national defense budget would not drop below 3 percent of GDP has not been met in any year; the pledge to maintain the budgets for military personnel, operations and military investment levels at a ratio of 4:3:3 has never been achieved; the pledge to demand that China dismantle its missiles aimed at Taiwan have come to naught and the courage to initiate military exchanges has been lacking.
In addition, after three months of investigating corruption by procurement officials, not one person has been found to have done anything wrong. At all past important military occasions, Ma stressed the importance of military morale — the military’s soft power — but during his presidency, many unexpected events have occurred without the results of any investigations being made public. Ma’s exhortations seem to have had no effect.
During the third televised debate between the presidential candidates on Dec. 23, Ma said under his presidency, US arms sales to Taiwan had reached a total of NT$18.3 billion (US$604 million), 2.12 times more than the NT$8.6 billion purchased during the eight years of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration.
However, anyone who has worked in the field of military development and investment planning at the Ministry of National Defense knows that major military purchases must be included as part of the 10-year military development plan and the five-year plan to restore military strength. Even if a case is rushed through, the process takes at least 12 months. Every piece of military equipment that the US has agreed to sell to Taiwan between May 2008 and today was planned for during the DPP administration. Some of the equipment were even items that Ma worked hard to block before he became president.
Would Ma now be willing to list all the major arms procurement plans that were initiated in the past four years? Taking credit for earlier plans is wrong and should not be allowed to pass uncriticized.
Ma attends military events as an excuse to co-opt high-ranking retired military officers. Former army commander-in-chief General Chen Cheng-hsiang (陳鎮湘), who is currently president of the Alumni Association of the Central Military and Institutes and Academies of the Republic of China, has called on the nation’s five biggest veterans’ organizations and all military personnel to forget all their tears, hate and blood and vote for Ma.
Such methods and comments raise questions about legitimacy and efficacy. When a retired general comes out in support of Ma, he is expressing only his own opinion as a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and there are no substantive data to show how many voters he represents. The reason most retired soldiers become independent individuals once they retire is because they no longer want to be involved in military matters or because they have their own opinions and viewpoints.