Martial-law period casts lengthy shadow over Taiwan’s army | Army Information

Taipei, Taiwan – At Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park, a former military school detention center, visitors can walk through the buildings where some of Taiwan’s most famous political prisoners were held, interrogated, and tried for 38 years of martial law.

The museum guides visitors through detention facilities, a replica court, and exhibits with testimonials from former inmates to give visitors a sense of life in what is now known as white terror.

Many of the political prisoners were arrested by the military police and the Taiwan Garrison Command, known as “the most vicious part of the military,” said Bill Sharp, a visiting scholar in the history department at National Taiwan University.

“It was the Taiwanese Gestapo, and if you went against the government, you would knock on your door in the early hours of the morning and say, ‘You have to come with us’.”

The Taiwanese garrison command was officially disbanded in 1992 shortly before Taiwan’s transition to democracy, but its legacy has left an indelible mark on the public as to what can happen when the armed forces are given uncontrolled power and has hampered attempts to establish a modern military for years develop .

“The image of the military in Taiwan is very bad and most people distrust the military [because] from the time of the White Terror, when the military was the pillar of totalitarianism and dictatorship and consumed enormous amounts of money, ”said Sharp.

Where it once stationed thousands of troops on offshore islands such as Kinmen, just six kilometers from China and in large numbers along the coast, the military has for the most part struggled to find enough men to fill its ranks in recent decades.

Taiwan is considering how to organize its armed forces when it comes to an increasingly assertive China [File: Ritchie B Tongo/EPA]Ironically, the situation did not begin to change until the 2016 election of Tsai Ing-wen as president, whose party was formed in the 1980s to partially challenge martial law.

Tsai has made military modernization a key policy by regularly visiting troops to improve morale, making extensive arms purchases, and helping increase military spending to a record high of $ 15.2 billion to defeat Taiwanese against their historical rival, the People’s Republic of China, to strengthen.

“Every street a shooting range”

The government has further enhanced public appreciation for the military by exposing Chinese military maneuvers near Taiwan territory that appear to have escalated into almost daily encounters over the past year after Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to join Taiwan if necessary Recapture violence.

Now, a year after her second term, Tsai is trying something that could be politically riskier given her party’s support base among those under 40 – strengthening the island’s military reserves.

Changes are likely to be asked by more young Taiwanese, especially their husbands, who have already completed four months of conscription in addition to regular examination courses by the age of 35.

While Taiwan’s reserves are almost 1.7 million according to the Global Firepower Index, the active reserves are between 150,000 and 165,000, depending on the estimate. Many experts wonder whether the island’s armed forces are even strong enough to meet the growing threat from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – and its more than two million active employees – across the sea.

“When you’re facing a challenge like the one you face in the PLA, four months won’t be enough,” said Michael Mazza, visiting scholar in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “What is more problematic beyond those four months is how minimal the training is after: a week or less per year for eight years. In theory, you have this large reserve force that has been very little trained. “

Since the 1990s, the PLA has made dramatic strides in its attempt to become a “world-class force” capable of not only ruling the disputed South China Sea but also invading Taiwan, over which the Beijing Communist Party claims sovereignty.

In a Department of Defense report released last September, the US concluded that the PLA was preparing for a scenario in which it could attempt “forcibly reunite Taiwan with the mainland” and any attempt at “third party intervention” in the country EU push back form of US military to defend the island.

Tsai Ing-wen has worked hard to strengthen the military and strengthen his role in the defense of Taiwan since he became president in 2016 [File: Ritchie B Tongo/EPA]“Taiwan has traditionally balanced a quantitative disadvantage over the PLA with a significant qualitative advantage over its opponents – better equipment, training, doctrine, and so on. But now, in most areas, that qualitative advantage is gone, and given China’s long-term military modernization plan, it’s not coming back, ”said Kharis Templeman, advisor on the Taiwan-Indo-Pacific project at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “Taiwan simply cannot take over the PLA directly in a peer-to-peer struggle if Beijing does its utmost to fight.”

Faced with such a powerful adversary, Taiwan has begun to shift its defense policy to an “asymmetrical” one, developing the kind of mobile units and weapons that would prevent an invading force from ever landing. The government has recently started buying new weapons like rocket launchers, drones and cruise missiles and building their first domestically produced submarines, but increasing reserves would also play a crucial role, Mazza said.

“In a war scenario, the reserves become incredibly important, especially if the PLA secures a beachhead. The reserve has the potential to be a really powerful deterrent to the Chinese invasion, as it can essentially be trained and armed to fight for every square inch of land between the beaches and the big cities, and turn every city street into a shooting range. “he said.” The question is whether the Taiwanese reserve can do this and the people reasonably have doubts about it. “

‘Waste of time’

Given the weaknesses, military planners have already made significant organizational changes, said Liao “Kitsch” Yen-Fan, a security analyst at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan.

In October, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry announced that it would establish the Defense and Reserve Mobilization Administration, a new unified agency to monitor reserves.

The ministry is also reorganizing the recruit training programs – breaking them down into coastal defense, critical facilities, and urban and rear defense, with conscripts focused on urban areas, Liao said. Since 2017, it has begun calling its youngest professional retirees in their thirties and forties for refresher courses, while draftees have also reported qualitative improvements in their annual drafting.

“Many people who have received calls recently said that their recent experience was very different from previous instances and it was a much more intense experience,” Liao said. “For example, the limit on how much ammunition is available for each training session is gone. Now it’s as much as you need and you also needed to become more familiar with basic lower-level skills and tactics in the field. All of this is very good, even if it doesn’t necessarily result in actual combat strength. “

Taiwan has spent more than three decades under martial law, and the excesses of military rule have made many people suspicious of the armed forces [File: Ritchie B Tongo/EPA]The toughest sale, however, could be a proposal by the Department of Defense to extend conscription exam courses from about seven days every two years to 14 days a year in 2022, though salaries will also rise across the board. It will also seek to learn from others – a delegation is expected to travel to Israel this year to examine the organization of its reserves and the country’s rapid mobilization system.

However, experts say more is needed, from more funding to reorganizing the way reserves are drawn. They switch to reserve units as opposed to individuals to improve group morale and cohesion.

A change, which many experts agree, is necessary but unlikely to see Taiwan deliver on its promise to become a volunteer military.

While many are wary of signing up because of the historic legacy of martial law, the island faces a more difficult problem – its population is shrinking.

The government has turned to women to fill the void, although Taiwan still lags behind countries like Singapore and Israel after a review of its military by the RAND Corporation. Conscription for women was also made public in public opinion polls.

For the time being, patriotism remains the main driving force behind recruitment.

“If there is a serious military crisis, it could increase the popularity of the Taiwanese armed forces in a hurry. The Air Force is already getting a lot of positive press these days as it frequently intercepts Chinese military aircraft, ”Templeman said.

“The most important thing, however, is to make basic training more systematic and relevant to actual war battles. Conscription is very unpopular because most of the people who have gone through it see it as a complete waste of time: many apprentices don’t even learn how to fire a gun. Paradoxically, if basic training is revised and intensified in an attempt to create functioning reserves at the unit level, it could paradoxically help, ”he said.

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