Taiwanese President Ma apologises over soldier’s death

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 July, 2013, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 July, 2013, 5:36pm

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou apologised on Wednesday over the death of a 24-year-old soldier while under confinement in a military brig, and ordered military officials to investigate the tragedy.

The death of the university graduate set off a wave of anger in the country, undermining Ma’s already low popularity and raising hard questions about the future of the island’s military.

Hung Chung-chiu died on July 3, after being forced to perform a vigorous regime of sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks and squats in sweltering heat at a base in suburban Taipei. A university graduate, Hung was only three days away from completing his mandatory 20-month service requirement when he died. His punishment was ordered because he brought a banned mobile phone onto his base.

“I want to express my sincere apologies to the family,” Ma said, bowing deeply at his Nationalist Party headquarters to express remorse over an incident that has affected Taiwan’s 23 million people with a force not seen since the jailing of former President Chen Shui-bian on corruption charges nearly five years ago. “But apologising and leaving it at that just isn’t enough.”

Ma went on to delineate a series of detailed instructions he has given to high ranking Defence Ministry personnel, aimed at finding out precisely how Hung died.

Ma’s gesture aside, the real significance of the Hung case lies in the damage it may do to Taiwan’s military, now in the midst of an ambitious transition from a mixed force of conscripts and volunteers to an all-volunteer army. The defence ministry says the transition is necessary to create a leaner, meaner deterrent to a possible Chinese attack, which despite rapidly improving relations between the sides, has never been taken off the table by Chinese authorities.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, and China continues to see the island as part of its territory, to be brought back into the fold by persuasion if possible, by force if necessary.