President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday pledged the government would continue to promote an all-volunteer military system, despite the public distrust of the army following the death of conscript Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘), and promised once again to increase the defense budget.
Speaking at a celebration held in advance of the Armed Forces Day on Tuesday, Ma urged the public not to lose confidence in the military because of the Hung case, and said he expected the Ministry of National Defense to lead reform efforts to restore public trust.
“Crisis can be an opportunity. The military has presented a series of reform measures since the Hung case, such as moving military cases to civilian courts and setting up appeals committee. The government will handle related cases with a candid and honest attitude and restore public trust in the military,” he said.
Hung died on July 4, following physical exercises he had been forced to do as part of his punishment in detention. His family raised doubts about the military’s probe into his death and requested an independent investigation. The case led the legislature to amend the Code of Court Martial Procedure (軍事審判法) and transfer military cases to civilian courts.
Ma acknowledged that the Hung case had damaged the military’s reputation.
However, he said the government will make great efforts to implement the all-volunteer system and rebuild the military’s image.
He also emphasized the government’s determination to maintain the nation’s defense ability, while improving cross-strait relations.
“We are continuing the efforts to improve our relations with mainland China, but the military does not relax in maintaining a small, but strong force and preparing for wars,” he said.
Last week the Cabinet approved the government’s annual budget for next year, with NT$305.9 billion (US$10.2 billion) allocated to defense, the lowest in terms of share of GDP since Ma came to power in 2008.
Despite a pledge by Ma during the 2008 presidential campaign to increase defense spending to above 3 percent of GDP, the defense budget has steadily decreased.
Additional reporting by staff writer