Wed, Feb 09, 2005 - Page 2 News List

New navy chief faces criticism

EXPERIENCENobody doubts Chen Pan-chih's personal qualities as an officer, but critics note the marine has no experience directing ships in battle

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

General Chen Pan-chih, who became commander-in-chief of the navy on Feb. 1, speaks at a press conference at the Ministry of National Defense in this file photo from last year.

TAIPEI TIMES FILE PHOTO

Marine three-star General Chen Pan-chih (陳邦治), who officially became the commander-in-chief of the navy on Feb. 1, is a new bright star in the military.

Chen is the first marine to take over the navy commander-in-chief's office, as well as the first native Taiwanese marine general. But his appointment to the post has come under heavy criticism from other high-ranking naval officers, since he has never directed a naval fleet in battle.

Chen does, however, have a bachelor's degree in engineering from the Navy Academy.

Prior to Chen's being assigned his new post by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on Jan. 26, Deputy Chief of the General Staff Admiral Fei Hung-po (費鴻波) and navy Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice Admiral Chang Wen-ping (張文平) were also thought to be likely candidates for the top naval job.

Chinese-language newspapers reported that Chen Shui-bian was initially planning to promote Chen Pan-chih to become the National Security Bureau's director-general but Chen Pan-chih was not interested in the post. The president then decided to give him the navy's top job.

The main reason Chen Pan-chih beat Fei and Chang for the promotion was that he had been a strong supporter of Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) over the NT$610.8 billion (US$19.15 billion) special weapons procurement budget, the purpose of which is to buy three Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) missile batteries, 12 P-3C maritime patrol aircraft and eight diesel-powered submarines from the US.

In addition, Chen Pan-chih likes to be a strong role model within the service. As marine commander, a two-star general position, he personally led his fellow marines to devastated areas in Taichung to help victims after the 921 earthquake in 1999.

He not only commended his troops but personally participated in rescue and relief work.

Nevertheless, while Chen Pan-chih has been called a "truly loyal soldier" he has been criticized for a lack of professional knowledge of naval affairs, since he has never served in the navy.

"He is a very senior marine officer for sure," said retired admiral Nelson Ku (顧崇廉). "A soldier does not have the right to say no when it comes to an order. I believe that the president must have a special assignment for him to accomplish so the president decided to promote him, despite the continuous criticism."

In response to public questioning of his qualifications to be navy commander-in-chief, Chen Pan-chih was quite confident about his abilities and said that he would not let people down.

"I was a well-trained and certified navy officer. I believe that I will be able to `click' in a month or so," he said. "Try me."

Chen Pan-chih was born in Tai-chung in 1942. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1966 with a bachelor's degree in Engineering and then joined the marines.

Of his reason for joining the marines he says: "I visited both navy facilities and marines' facilities. I discovered that the grass in marines' facilities was well-maintained while the grass in the navy facilities was not. As a result, I decided to join the marines," he said.

"Also, I hate being sea sick," he said, "although after I joined the marines, I still had to accomplish many amphibious assignments with sailors on naval vessels so I gradually overcome my sea sickness problems."

When Chen Pan-chih tried to retire in 2001, his retirement application was declined by the Presidential Office. In 2002, Chen Shui-bian decided to give him another star, making him the first Taiwanese native three-star general since Chen Shui-bian took office.

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