Media reports early this month said that soldiers in Lienchiang County’s (Matsu) Juguang Township (莒光) had no fresh meat for days. To solve the problem, the Ministry of National Defense sent a C-130 transport aircraft loaded with food supplies to the county’s Siju Island (西莒).
Some said it was the soldiers’ fault, calling them “strawberry soldiers” unable to endure hardships, but the situation is not quite so simple.
First, delivering supplies to Siju is complicated. There is no direct route between Keelung and Juguang. All supply boats going to Siju must first stop at Fuao Harbor (福澳港) in the county’s Nangan Township (南竿), where the supplies are transferred to smaller boats. It takes another hour for these small boats to reach Siju. Delays are normal.
The C-130 arranged by the ministry could only reach Nangan. In other words, the delivery was merely for show and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Second, commercial boats chartered by the military operate on an irregular basis. The fees paid to the shipping companies are quite low, and the number of soldiers and civilians living in Juguang is relatively small. It is therefore not cost-effective, which is why companies often cancel boats on the pretext of weather or technical problems. Shipping delays and port congestion have become the norm.
In October last year, Democratic Progressive Party Lienchiang County Chapter director Lii Wen (李問) brought up the issue, saying that food supply problems in Juguang would worsen because of these shipping suspensions.
Regrettably, his warning was not taken seriously. The troops stationed there had also informed their superiors of the problem, but the Matsu Defense Command did not deal with it.
The ministry — especially the Matsu Defense Command — failed to address the issue in a timely fashion. Once the armed forces had made their request, the ministry should have responded by sending naval vessels with food and supplies.
Meanwhile, the county government and regional legislators have failed to understand what the people of Juguang need. It is believed that the politicians there do not have to work hard, as Matsu residents are often considered loyal to the pan-blue camp. One of the farthest outlying islands, Juguang Township has been neglected for years.
To fix these problems, the navy should help with the deliveries and meet the public’s urgent needs. This would improve the relationship between the military and civilians.
Moreover, the military should pay the shipping companies more, encouraging them to provide more commercial vessels with stable schedules. The quantity and variety of supplies should also be increased, while meal boxes that can be reheated should be included.
Taiwan must ensure that officers and soldiers on the front lines are provided with enough food.
Matsu has had to deal with cable disconnections, unstable shipping and traffic, and harassment from China. In particular, the armed forces in the area have to face a number of hardships: food shortages, breakdowns of desalination machines, a lack of military supplies, slow deliveries of equipment and commercial boats’ irregular schedules.
Rather than concentrating on the traditions of the military, the defense minister and military officials should deal with these problems immediately.
As the outlying islands are the most significant of Taiwan’s front lines, food shortages and the interruption of military supplies must be avoided.
Chu-Ke Feng-yun is a university assistant professor. He blogs about military affairs.
Translated by Emma Liu
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