For the first time in 28 years, the annual Han Kuang military drills were held in the absence of the commander-in-chief. According to media reports, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) spent all of six minutes inspecting the drills before leaving (the Ministry of National Defense said the visit lasted 30 minutes). Both the military and civilians should be chilled to the bone by the fact that the commander-in-chief cares so little about the military’s capabilities.
Ma was absent from the opening of the drills due to a visit to diplomatic allies in Africa — a valid reason. However, after returning home in time to attend the drills, he could not leave quickly enough, making it clear to everyone how much importance he gives them.
However, the main point is not how long Ma was present at the drills, but rather that despite being commander-in-chief of the Republic of China (ROC) military, he has attended only one drill in four years. No wonder people get the impression that he does not think national defense is important.
It is understandable that the head of state would want to keep a low profile in military matters at a time when cross-strait relations are thawing, but since the Cold War, the military’s war-preparedness has weakened as we have moved toward conciliation, and the army is no longer clear on whom to fight or why.
For example, Justin Lin (林毅夫), who defected to China in 1979 and currently works as a vice president at the World Bank, now wants to visit Taiwan. Astonishingly, some people say he should be allowed to do so, and without being subjected to any repercussion for his defection. That is how confused people have become when it comes to separating friend from foe. Maintaining solid military morale and identity is the main duty of the commander-in-chief, but Ma is clearly not fulfilling either of these requirements.
The primary constitutionally defined duties of the head of state are national defense, foreign affairs and cross-strait relations. Ma is a busy man with many things on his plate, and how he divides his time and attention between his duties is a good indication of how he ranks them in importance. He spent 30 minutes on the Han Kuang drills (to give him the benefit of the doubt), and this amount of time is clearly not proportional to his national defense responsibilities.
Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his vice president, Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), led attendance by civil servants and soldiers throughout the whole drill, paying earnest attention to his duties as commander-in-chief, which throws Ma’s neglect of those duties into sharp relief.
With the commander-in-chief displaying such a casual interest in the drills, it is difficult to condemn the military for taking a similar approach. This year, the drills did not include live ammunition. The ministry says this was to cut carbon emissions, save energy and avoid disturbing local residents. However, the drills are supposed to simulate a real war and practice wartime command, cooperation between the branches of the military, warfare techniques and weapons handling in order to identify and improve shortcomings in warfare capabilities. Without the use of live ammunition in the drills, the whole exercise turns into a family picnic, with everyone playing around while soldiers are having breakfast and reading the news at breakfast shops. How effective will that kind of drill be in identifying military weaknesses?