Civilian to run Taiwan's military following outrage over soldier's death

Former academic promoted in cabinet reshuffle amid outrage over soldier’s death

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 July, 2013, 2:52pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 12:32pm

Taiwan's cabinet yesterday named a civilian to head the defence ministry in a move to subdue growing outrage over the death of a corporal held in a military brig earlier this month.

Andrew Yang Nian-zu, a scholar-turned deputy defence minister, will replace his boss, Kao Hua-chu, as defence minister as part of a cabinet reshuffle, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said.

Jiang did not elaborate on why Yang was chosen but stressed that the reshuffle was aimed at "responding to the general public's expectations" and "working to enhance the public well-being".

He announced six other new appointments, including the promotion of a deputy finance minister, William Tseng Ming-chung, as head of the Financial Supervisory Commission. Naval commander Admiral Tung Hsiang-lung was also named head of the Veterans Affairs Commission.

Yang, a 58-year-old former professor of Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung who has advised in the drafting of Taiwan's defence white papers, was named deputy defence minister in 2009. An expert in cross-strait issues and military strategy, Yang is the fifth civilian defence minister in Taiwan's history and the first in President Ma Ying-jeou's government.

Yang's patient and humble approach in dealing with weeks of protests over the soldier's death was seen as contributing to his promotion to defence chief.

Yang has been apologising and bowing to protesters and kept his cool even when objects were thrown at him.

The July 4 death of corporal Hung Chung-chiu, just three days before he was due to be discharged after completion of his compulsory year-long military service, was attributed to heatstroke. However, Hung's family alleged that he was abused by his superiors, who forced him to exercise excessively while in a military brig where he was being punished for bringing a banned camera-equipped cellphone into the military compound. The family also said Hung was denied water and not allowed to rest, even after he collapsed.

The alleged treatment sparked outrage across the island, with human rights activists and other civic groups taking to the streets in recent weeks.

While civilian prosecutors have been called in to conduct an independent probe into Hung's death - a rare move in the history of Taiwan's military prosecution - Ma has vowed to probe the case to uncover the truth.

"[Kao] will do what a minister should do," Ma told reporters yesterday, apparently referring to Kao's stepping down.