Espionage case shakes public trust in military

By Lu I-ming 呂一銘  / 

Wed, Feb 16, 2011 - Page 8

The damage done by Major General Lo Hsien-che’s (羅賢哲) espionage case goes beyond just affecting military intelligence cooperation between the US and Taiwan. It has also shaken public faith in the armed forces’ ability to defend the nation. As many as 88 percent of respondents in a survey carried out by Yahoo Kimo expressed a lack of confidence in the military. Would that it were as clear-cut as one rogue officer lured by money or caught in a honey trap, or just a product of espionage warfare.

The conversation is no longer about who is at war with whom, and even retired officers on either side are buddy-buddy with each other. Serving officers see their former superiors getting on well with their Chinese counterparts, they hear all the talk about setting up a cross-strait military mutual trust mechanism and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and his predecessor Jiang Zemin (江澤民) talking about “ending the state of hostility.” In this new climate, it is easy for people to let their guard down.

Allowing the armed forces to set the tone, trusting in Beijing’s goodwill in the fight for eventual unification and lacking a comprehensive national narrative or central idea is asking for trouble. There will certainly be many more examples of Lo in the future.

Over the last few years, we have already witnessed a series of mishaps, miscarriages of justice and cases of corruption involving the armed forces, undermining the notion of military ethics and seriously compromising the military’s credo of “Country, Glory and Duty.”

A scandal such as this in a normal, democratic, culturally diverse and open country, where one is clear where one’s allegiance belongs, is one thing. However, Taiwan is a special case. The armed forces are conflicted on this issue. Complicating the situation are factors such as which country one personally identifies with, whether you favor independence or unification, and the attitude of the incumbent government.

If one subscribes to the idea that eventual unification is desirable, and therefore agrees with a diplomatic truce and a cessation of hostilities, the lines between friend and foe are easily blurred.

This leads to a weakening of the military’s resolve and over time it becomes disorientated, losing its sense of honor. Reducing this disorientation is the responsibility of the government and opposition alike.

According to the former commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy Keating, China still has more than 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwan. Despite Beijing’s insistence that this constitutes a national sovereignty issue, the US is still tied to honoring the Taiwan Relations Act. Taiwan’s national defense capability is riddled with vulnerabilities — even more so now that China is developing the J-20 stealth fighter — and needs to buy more defensive weapons.

This espionage case could not have come at a worse time, now that the US-Taiwan military mutual trust mechanism is all the more crucial.

Beijing’s stance remains unchanged. It wants “peaceful unification,” advocating the “one country, two systems” model and the notion that “Taiwan is a part of China.” It still has its “Anti-Secession” Law in place. It has made it known to the international community that it considers Taiwan to be one of its “core interests.”

Taiwan, on the other hand, has a military unsure as to where it stands in terms of the Chinese and a government pursuing a non-hostile, pro-China policy.

Confusion over the nature of the enemy is making it difficult for the military to carry out its role as defender of the nation. How can the public not be concerned over this deterioration in our fortunes?

Lu I-ming is the former publisher and president of Taiwan Shin Sheng Daily News.