The nation’s armed forces, which count hundreds of thousands of people in their ranks, represent a sizable constituency in Taiwan, and as such should be called upon to help the nation in whatever way they can in times of need.
Already, many of the men and women who serve in the military put their lives at risk, whether it is during training, in the wake of natural catastrophes, or — and let us hope it never comes to this — in time of war. Far too often their efforts and dedication are taken for granted or made the object of ridicule.
Facing such odds, soldiers’ morale understandably suffers. What’s more, bad press makes the goal of creating a fully professional military even less attainable, as young people would rather turn to the private sector than join an organization that is constantly under fire. A country need not be martial or fascistic to accord its armed forces the respect they deserve. Just like politicians, business owners, nurses, academics or farmers, soldiers and military officers are an integral part of society.
Which brings us to the habit of using soldiers whenever large quantities of agricultural products need to be disposed of or their prices stabilized. In recent years, hundreds of tonnes of oranges and bananas have been purchased by the military and “force-fed” to soldiers amid efforts to help farmers. More recently, it was proposed that the Ministry of National Defense purchase large quantities of pork to serve a similar objective.
This is grotesque. While there is no doubt that soldiers want to contribute to society like everybody else — and they do, every single day they put on the uniform — it is difficult to imagine that proposals by politicians to bloat soldiers’ stomachs with whatever produce needs stock reduction or price adjustment makes them feel that their sacrifices are fully acknowledged. Quite the opposite, it probably makes them feel used, and we can be assured that this is of no benefit to morale.
As has been the case almost every year, the nation faces surfeits of products or price destabilization. Quick fixes, such as those used for oranges, bananas and now perhaps pork, will always fail to address a problem that is structural rather than seasonal. Rather than proposing to dump unwanted produce on soldiers, legislators and government officials should put their minds together to identify the underlying causes of what are recurring problems and, once those have been understood, come up with long-term solutions to fix them. Doing so would not only be of great service to the nation as a whole, but would also avoid alienating a sector that is already doing more than its share of heavy lifting.
Relations between the military and civilians, especially in democracies, are inherently tense. However, that relationship can be enhanced when proper respect is paid to both sides. Civilians should show respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line to ensure they can continue their way of life; it is just as essential that soldiers and officers regard society with equal justness, while remembering that the powers given them — force of arms — is a great responsibility and must only be wielded at the service of society.
Should that respect be lost, we cannot expect soldiers to fight and lay down their lives for a society that treats them like second-rate citizens. Using them as garbage dumps does just that.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
Determined to keep a permanent grip on power, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has abandoned former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) dogma of “hiding our capacities and biding our time” along with the “peaceful development” line that prevailed under former Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Instead, he is treading a “wolf warrior” path of diplomacy that resorts to coercion, debt entrapment and hostage-taking. Externally, Xi’s China has claimed that it would never seek hegemony, yet it challenges the free, rules-based international order wherever it can. While insisting that it will not export its ideology, it has