The Ministry of National Defense yesterday acknowledged that Chief of the General Staff Admiral Li Chieh (
"Li had by no means planned to resign because of his illness. He is in good physical condition," the ministry said.
The ministry made the statement in response to a report by the Apple Daily yesterday that Li has tendered his resignation in recent months because of his health and that several military leaders are now competing to replace him.
The ministry denied everything in the report except the part about Li having been hospitalized in February for a lung ailment.
The ministry said Li had been hospitalized as high blood pressure, which it said was brought under control after several days' treatment at the Tri-service General Hospital in Neihu.
A senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Li spent several days at the Tri-service General Hospital, during which time President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) also visited him.
"Li was then diagnosed as being likely to have a stroke because of high blood pressure. This caused great worry for the ministry and the presidential office, which worked out a contingency plan to replace him within two weeks if he did not recover," the official said.
"The situation was really tense because it would be a very serious matter for the military to replace the chief of the general staff because of illness. Fortunately, Li recovered quickly and returned to his office in March," he said.
Li disappeared from the public eye on Feb. 15, one day before he accompanied Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) to an annual meeting with the press. He did not show up again at a public occasion until March.
"Air force Commander-in-Chief General Li Tien-yu (李天羽) was intended to replace Li Chieh if he did not recover from his illness. Li Tien-yu is one of President Chen's most trusted men in the military," the defense official said.
"Vice Defense Minister for Administrative Affairs General Chen Chao-ming (
"But General Chen is strongly disliked by Tang. He will never get any backing from Tang for his bid to be chief of the general staff. On the other hand, General Li does not have any such problems as far as Tang is concerned," he said.
"So it is very clear that General Li has a better chance to become the next chief of the general staff. The question now is when Admiral Li will step down. The timing will be crucial to determine who would win the race," he said.
Besides high blood pressure which, has been brought under control, Admiral Li also suffers problems with his lungs.
He is known to be a chain smoker. His lung problems were first discovered when he was hospitalized in February.
Admiral Li's two-year term will expire next March. It is believed that he will step down before then, probably later this year or early next year.