Wednesday October 23, 2019

MASSIVE PROTESTS IN TAIWAN: A TRIGGER TOWARDS MILITARY REFORM?

August 9, 2013

On August 4th 2013, over 200,000 people packed in front of the Presidential office in Taipei, Taiwan to “bid farewell” to former army conscript Hung Chung-Chiu and demand truth and justice regarding Hung’s death on July 4th.  Organized by Citizen 1985, protesters all dressed in white and shouted their support of Hung’s family demanding the truth about Hung’s death. Hung’s death has led to mass protests across the country over the past month.

Hung Chung-Chiu was sent to military detention on June 28th after he was found carrying a camera phone a few days prior. During his detention, Hung was made to do excessive exercise as part of his punishment and was hospitalized on July 3rd after suffering heatstroke and falling into a coma. On July 4th, he died of organ failure just two days before completing his military service. According to Hung’s companions, he was bullied and tortured by his supervisors and higher commanders during his detention.

Taiwan’s defense ministry released its initial findings on July 18th and showed that Hung should have only been given administrative punishment. Also the physical drills he had to do should have not been allowed under the heat and humidity he experienced. Instead of calming anger over, this initial report attracted more public doubts. The medical report was unusually expedited–it came within half a day when normally reports are issued within a week. In addition, several crucial pieces of evidence turned out to be mysteriously missing, such as the closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage, which should have completely recorded what was actually occurring in the detention room when Hung was ordered to perform extreme physical drills. Since then, Taipei has erupted in protests.

The initial desire of those protesters was the truth about and justice for Hung’s untimely death due to the unclear report of Taiwan’s defense ministry’s initial findings. However, after a month of more and more suspicious reports from the defense ministry and the unclear attitudes military officials took towards Hung’s family and the public, the unsatisfied comments regarding the military and even Ma Ying-Jeou and his Kuomintang (KMT) government have been increasing. Since the defense ministry could not gain the evidence to close Hung’s case, they just ended the investigation with a mass of doubtful points.

Protesters’ calls have moved from calling for the truth about Hung’s death to demanding that the entire military prosecution system be taken over by the civilian judicial system. They even said that President Ma should be fully responsible for the human rights of soldiers. At the end of July, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu resigned and 18 military officers were charged over the incident, 15 of which were undergoing criminal prosecutions. Despite these actions, questions about Taiwan’s entire military system have been rising among the public.

It has been a very sensitive time for Taiwan’s army because over the past few years, Taiwanese people have been calling for a voluntary army instead of conscription. Conscription is regarded as a nuisance and an obstacle to career development for young Taiwanese. With less young people are willing to join the army, the army has been struggling to get enough recruits for a long time before Hung’s death. Taiwan plans to abolish conscription by 2015 due to the concerns over defense spending’s dwindling share. After Mr. Hung’s death, the bullying common in conscript armies may only deter Taiwanese all the more from joining up voluntarily.

At the same time, since President Ma promised to improve Taiwan’s decreasing military budget but has failed to do so, both Taiwan’s military recruitment and Ma’s governance are under doubt. Recently Ma’s approval rating has been decreased to 13%, which is the lowest since 1949. If President Ma and his government cannot deal well with Hung Chung-Chiu’s case, there is no doubt that his ability to govern will face more queries. When that time comes, Hung’s case will not only be a cause of military reform, but also it will become a fatal trigger that challenges Taiwan’s policymaker’s future.

For more information about Taiwan’s demonstration, see the following news articles:

Wall Street Journal-Soldier’s Death Sparks Massive Protest in Taiwan

BBC-Taiwan protest over Hung Chung Chiu Death

CNN-Taiwan’s Protests Throw Spotlight on Asia’s Military

The Economist-Taiwan’s Army Blooded

The China Post-Soldier’s Death Will Influence Recruitment: Defense Ministry

For Chinese language news on Taiwan’s demonstration, see the articles below:

环球时报-“南方朔:洪仲丘命案预演“台湾之春”

凤凰网-台湾被虐死士兵姐姐赴立院呼吁军事审判法修法

人民网-马英九探望洪仲丘父母 称军中冤案都不排除重启调查

搜狐网-台湾之怒:仲丘身亡引公民游行 人数创历史记录

新华网-台学者:台湾人民对马英九信心已濒临崩溃

Compiled and edited by Weiran Liu