Mon, Nov 21, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Taiwan's military trying to boost public relations

ADAPTATION Experts say that the campaign is a good sign that the military is finally updating its mind-set from the authoritarian era to today's democracy

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) is cultivating better relations with the public, in a bid to improve its chance of getting the long-stalled US arms procurement bill passed. Experts said that the campaign could also be valuable in the long term, as the MND gets more experience in operating in a democracy.

As one of the most powerful sectors in a formerly authoritarian country, Taiwan's military is going through a transition in its mindset, and allowing the public to become more involved in military matters.

Since last month, the MND has opened military bases nationwide and displayed weaponry every weekend. The military not only conducts small-scale, live-fire drills for the public, but also allows the public to board warships, see submarines and "operate" weapons.

This coming weekend, the MND will hold a big party at Keelung (基隆) naval base for the decommissioning of the navy's last Yang-class warship.

Open to the press

Earlier this month, when the MND invited dozens of local and foreign journalists to visit military facilities in southern Taiwan to see the navy's S-2T Turbo Tracker sub-hunting aircraft and Zwaardvis-class and Guppy-class submarines, it also allowed journalists to enter the sub's command room.

For the first time, the military permitted the media to take photos inside the submarines.

"How could the public know that a flying aircraft is able to detect and attack subs that are underwater, if the navy didn't provide information to the public about sub-hunting aircraft equipment and capabilities?" navy vice commander-in-chief Wang Li-shen (王立申) asked the Taipei Times.

However, the change in the military's mindset did not come easily. In January, the MND suddenly decided to cancel the long-held tradition of a weekly press conference, citing what the ministry called the media's negative and distorted reports. After the local media's protested the move, the ministry decided to maintain a press conference every two weeks instead.

With the ministry stymied at every turn in trying to get the special arms bill passed, Minister of Defense Lee Jye (李傑) has hinted to legislators that he misses the good old days, when any military budget would likely have been approved rapidly.

Stuck in the past

Chen Jun-ming (陳俊明), associate professor in public policy and management at Shih Hsin University, said that although Taiwan has undergone democratization since the early 1990s, the military did not seem to be much affected under the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) administration and a KMT-controlled legislature.

He said that when in 1992 the US announced it would sell 150 F-16 fighters to Taiwan and in 1993 France agreed to sell 60 Mirage-2000 fighters to the country, the KMT government swiftly arranged special arms budgets for the two procurements. The bills were quickly approved by the legislature.

Chen said that when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came into power in 2000, the military thought the pan-blues would support the MND's arms procurements, as it had in the past.

That turned out to be a mistaken assumption. Now, since the special arms budget has been blocked for months, the military has decided to bypass the opposition parties and appeal directly to the public to win support for the bill.

Chen noted that it will also benefit the ministry if it can make the public aware that maintaining a robust defense is in the nation's interest. But he said that once the ministry reaches out to the public, the public will also increasingly demand a say in military affairs.

This story has been viewed 3428 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top