In Taiwan the military has lost a lot of popular support over the last decade. Despite the continued threat from China, many Taiwanese have opposed efforts to upgrade military equipment and buy new weapons. Part of this is a reluctance to spend all that money, partly it’s the realization that no amount of arms buying will stop China if they are determined to take Taiwan. Then there’s the shift in power, as the majority native Taiwanese finally took power from the ethnic Chinese minority that ran the country via a military dictatorship since 1948. This finally happened in 2000.
With all this comes a lot less respect for the military leadership, which was rather dramatically demonstrated recently when the government had three different Ministers of Defense in less than ten days. It all began on July 30th when Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu was forced to resign because of popular anger over the July 4th death of a 24 year old conscript (Hung Chung-chiu). Friends and parents reported that the dead soldier incurred the enmity of several of his superiors who got carried away with their retaliatory actions. This included forcing Hung to perform strenuous exercises during very hot weather. This resulted in Hung dying from heat stroke. An investigation led to over 30 military personnel being prosecuted for assisting in killing Hung or trying to cover it up.
Kao was replaced by Andrew Yang, an academic and the first civilian to ever hold the job. Yang was forced to resign in less than a week when it was revealed that a book he had used a ghost writer for, had, without Yang’s knowledge, plagiarized from Chinese sources. Yang was replaced by the current Deputy Defense Minister Kao Kuang-chi.
The Taiwanese military has earned most of its ill-will because of the growing unpopularity of conscription. The military had always been Chinese officers and NCOs commanding a largely ethnic Taiwanese force. This resentment was not a new problem and the government and military have been trying to deal with it for over a decade. Part of the solution has been reducing armed forces strength from 350,000 a decade ago to 215,000 by 2014. At that point the military was to be all volunteer. But the plan has not worked because the military has not been able to attract enough volunteers. Solving that will cost more money and a change in attitude within the military. Conscription has long been unpopular because of the culture of brutality towards new recruits. If that could be eliminated a smaller force of willing troops would be more effective. Fewer troops was supposed to mean more money for new equipment. But even that is in danger because public sentiment has become very anti-military because of the latest conscript death.
For decades there have been calls for wide-ranging reforms within the military, something the military has resisted. The leadership of the Taiwanese military trace their origins back to the remnants of the defeated Nationalist forces that fled to Taiwan in 1949. This brought two million Nationalist soldiers and supporters to an island already occupied by six million Taiwanese. The Nationalist military used force when necessary to get cooperation from the Taiwanese majority and there remains an “above the law” attitude among the army leadership because the military is all that is keeping the communist barbarians from taking over Taiwan. Although many of the senior officers are now ethnic Taiwanese, these attitudes persist in the military and are resented by the majority of Taiwanese.