Last month, the Ministry of National Defense announced plans to form a new reserve mobilization agency, integrating two existing military agencies — the All-out Defense Mobilization Office and the Armed Forces Reserve Command — into a new “defense reserve mobilization agency” by January next year.
During a meeting of the Legislative Yuan’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee on April 19, Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) told legislators that the proposed reforms to the military reserve system would include amending the Civilian Defense Act (民防法) to allow the military to mobilize post-disaster relief volunteer workers at Buddhist and Taoist temples, as well as churches.
The ministry’s change of strategy would transform the nation’s reserve force from a defensive footing to an offensive footing, simultaneously enhancing national security and defense.
Since Chinese Communist Party (CCP) agents are known to have infiltrated a large number of Taiwan’s temple organizations, some readers might be concerned that incorporating temple volunteer workers into the military’s reserve force would be asking for trouble.
However, the temples that have made money from the Chinese market and come under the CCP’s “united front” umbrella could be brought under the ministry’s control if their money supply was cut off by blocking access to Chinese funds. Very few temple volunteers are ideologically wedded to the CCP; they are simply trying to make ends meet.
Temples are important places of worship and scenic tourist attractions, but they are also indispensable spaces for community gatherings. The public places a great deal of trust in temples and as places of worship and tourism, they are an asset to society.
However, Beijing exploits the profit potential behind temple worship, and has for many years leveraged China’s vast market to gain a foothold in Taiwan’s temples. It is difficult for those outside the world of Taiwan’s temples to fully comprehend the motivation and thought processes that have caused some temple organizations to embrace Chinese money.
Given the situation, it is absolutely correct that the ministry, tasked with defending territorial sovereignty and upholding national security, should seek to bring temple organizations under its influence. It is a wise decision that demonstrates admirable strategic foresight.
The ministry must deliberate carefully before jumping in feet first, especially regarding the details of a mobilization plan, how to manage the system during non-mobilization, how to establish relationships with temple management committees and other key players, and how to distribute considerable subsidies to the temples, without involving their “exchanges” with Chinese organizations.
Finally, to compete with the massive size of the Chinese market, the government should consider whether it needs to proscribe Taiwan’s temples from conducting “exchanges” with Chinese organizations.
All of these points require careful consideration before the reserve system is extended to the nation’s temple volunteer groups.
Li Wen-hao is a historian, private tutor and fitness instructor.
Translated by Edward Jones
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