Thursday, July 03, 2008

Looking Backwards

Taiwan News editorializes on worrisome developments in the military:

For over seven decades on the China mainland and Taiwan, the military and intelligence and security services of the Republic of China were explicitly at the service of the "party," namely the autocratic "Chinese Nationalist Party" (or Kuomintang) ever since the founding of the Whampoa (or Huangbu) Military Academy in 1924 near Guangzhou by KMT founder Sun Yat-sen and then its first principal and future KMT dictator Chiang Kai-shek.

During the two decades of KMT rule on the China mainland, Whampoa graduates earned a reputation as forming the fascistic wing of the KMT, organized into the notorious "Blue Shirts" and as supplying the core of the KMT's party army's officer corps and the leadership of its secret police organs and continued this "tradition" into during the four decades of martial law.

The process of "depoliticizing" or "nationalizing" Taiwan's armed forces from KMT party control was initiated by former president Lee Teng-hui in the early 1990s and continued by Chen in the face of resistance within the long indoctrinated military and other hardline elements in the KMT who deeply resented the "betrayal" of the legacy of "the Leader" and their party's "great Chinese nationalism."

Nevertheless, substantial progress was made during this period, including passage of laws that unified command and administration systems under the Ministry of National defense, the removal of direct activity by KMT party organizations in the military and major changes in military education to stress defense of the 23 million Taiwan people and the citizenship rights of soldiers themselves.

Numerous symbolic changes also took place, such as the removal of signboards demanding soldiers to "Cherish the Leader" (namely Chiang Kai-shek) or reviving the phrase "the (KMT) party flies high" in the school song of the renamed Central Military into the "national flag."

The transformation of the armed forces from a tool of KMT party rule into a defender of Taiwan's democratic order is widely credited with ensuring the smoothness of Taiwan's first transfer of political power from the KMT to the DPP in May 2000 and in the failure of the apparent "soft coup" by the KMT camp to reverse the narrow re-election victory of the DPP incumbent in March 2004.

The goosestep returns

However, during his first six weeks as Taiwan president, Ma has issued clear signals on where he and his right-wing KMT government stand.

On May 24, new KMT Defense Minister Chen Chao-ming restored the phrase "the party flag flies high" into the first line of the CMA song in a clear symbolic signal that the former DPP government's concern for maintaining the image of military political neutrality was no longer seen as a priority.

On June 16, in the approving presence of KMT hardliners such as former premier Hau Pei-tsun, Ma led cadets of the R.O.C. Central Military Academy in Kaohsiung County, the direct inheritor of the "Whampoa Spirit" in singing the school's anthem including the reference to the "party flag."

Yesterday, the KMT president took another step backward by leading cadets of Taiwan's three military academies in formally reciting the "R.O.C. Soldier's Maxims" in their graduation ceremony at the CMA, an action which also harkened back to the 1930s.
The editorial is long and terrifying, but it is clear that the KMT is going to roll back much of the DPP progress in trying to eliminate the Leninist vision that the government is the arm of the party. Ma, on the other hand, ideologue that he is, is returning the island to attitudes that were already out of date when the KMT imported them here.

Some of you often complain that the DPP doesn't seem to have any accomplishments. But in fact many of its accomplishments received little publicity but represented deep changes in the way the island of Taiwan thought about the relationship between state, people, and government. The DPP struggled hard to make the military subordinate to the civilian government, as it should be in a democracy, not to particular political parties. Michael Chase had a good review of things in 2006 at the Jamestown Foundation:

...During the period of martial law from 1949-1987, the military was loyal not to the state, but to the ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT). The military actively participated in efforts to mobilize voters and was heavily involved in the suppression of opposition to the KMT regime. Military officers, composed primarily of mainlanders, held seats on the most powerful KMT bodies and filled numerous government positions. Additionally, the military was permeated by a political commissar system that ensured its loyalty to the ruling party. The Chief of the General Staff (CGS) reported directly to the President, bypassing Taiwan’s cabinet, the Executive Yuan, and minimizing legislative oversight of defense affairs. In addition, there were no civilian defense policy experts. In the words of one Taipei-based analyst, under Chiang Kai-Shek and Chiang Ching-Kuo the armed forces were the “military arm of the KMT instead of the nation. The military was infused with KMT ideology to implement the KMT’s policy” [4]. The process of democratization in Taiwan, marked by the lifting of martial law in 1987 and the end of the Period of Mobilization to Suppress the Communist Rebellion in 1991, opened the way for the nationalization of the armed forces and the establishment of civilian control.

Chase goes on to describe how new laws under the DPP changed the relationship between the parties, the military, and the government:

To promote the achievement of these objectives, the laws codify the political neutrality of the armed forces. Article 6 of the National Defense Act states, “The ROC Armed Forces shall remain neutral from individual, regional and party affiliations” [7]. The laws also establish a new chain of command; Article 8 of the National Defense Act states, “The President shall assume the supreme command of army, navy, and air force of the ROC, and is the commander-in-chief of the ROC Armed Forces. He exerts executive authority over the Minister of National Defense, and the Chief of the General Staff (CGS) follows the command of the Minister to lead the ROC Armed Forces” [8]. This means that the CGS, who previously reported directly to the president, is now subordinate to the civilian defense minister. The Two Defense Laws also increased the power of the defense minister by placing both the ministry staff and the armed forces under his direct authority.

Under the new laws, the MND is thus effectively placed in charge of all major aspects of national defense. Specifically, the Organization Act of the Ministry of National Defense declares, “The Ministry of National Defense (MND) is in charge of the overall national defense affairs of the Republic of China” [9]. Accordingly, the law grants the MND authority over a number of areas that were previously the exclusive purview of the General Staff Headquarters (GSH) and the services. Specifically, the law stipulates that the MND is in charge of, among other things, the defense policy, military strategy, budgetary plans and the development of the military forces [10].

The laws thus give the minister control of both military administration and military command, for the first time placing these two functions under the jurisdiction of a single official. Moreover, Article 12 of the National Defense Law stipulates that the minister of national defense must be a civilian. Therefore, a civilian is in charge of administration, command, armament and resource allocation, and is responsible for developing military strategy and defense policy. Another important change resulting from the two defense laws is that the MND will now have the power to make important personnel decisions, a function that was previously dominated by the GSH.

Under the old system the General Staff Headquarters was essentially a state-within-state and a powerful reactionary political force. Severing that Leninist-style relationship between party, state, and military, and its fascist ideology was a major DPP achievement, and within the first month or so, the Ma Administration is already moving to make hollow this important democratic success.


Tommy said...

This thread could just as easily have been entitled "Marching Backwards". :)

I would like to think most people in Taiwan pay attention to things like this, but unfortunately, what I think often amounts to no more than wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I often think... "If they only knew..."

I wouldn't place this in a trope of forward and backwardness though. Maybe it would be more appropriate to view things like this as "deviating from the social trajectory the people of Taiwan have expressed a clear desire to follow. Cumbersome? Yes.

chinaphil said...

Can't this be taken to court? That law sounds pretty clear: "The ROC Armed Forces shall remain neutral from individual, regional and party affiliations" I dunno how Taiwanese constitutional or civil law work, but couldn't some enterprising lawyers be found to support a soldier in his rejection of KMTabilia in military ceremonies. Of course, with their majority, the KMT could change the laws. But it would be a bit blatant, wouldn't it, even for these bandits.

corey said...

Chinaphil, who do you think practically owns the courts? Seriously, do you believe anything would legally happen to the KMT right now?


We had to wait out Bush...I hope Taiwan can wait out Ma without too much (or with none at all) irreparable damage.