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Ma Ying-jeou seeks to quiet doubts about Taiwan’s defence

Taiwanese president uses anniversary trip to outpost of Quemoy to reaffirm military agenda and boost morale in wake of corporal's death

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 August, 2013, 4:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 7:49am
 

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou travelled to the defence outpost of Quemoy to boost the military's morale yesterday, as the United States reaffirmed its commitment to sell arms to Taiwan.

Ma's trip to the Taiwanese stronghold just off the mainland came after a public outcry over the detention death of a young soldier that shook confidence in the island's willingness to defend itself.

Ma also used the occasion to rebut mainland media reports this week claiming that Washington "responded positively" when approached by Beijing about a proposal to set up a working group on arms sales to Taiwan.

"We must not relax our combat readiness and we will continue to purchase arms from the United States," Ma said. Taipei officials had found the report to be false after checking "through different channels", he said.

The US State Department said Washington would continue to honour its commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the US to sell defensive arms to the island.

"We believe this long-standing policy contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said at a briefing on Thursday.

During his visit to Quemoy, which came on the 55th anniversary of an artillery battle with the mainland, Ma praised the military and defended his administration's handling of the death of Taiwanese army corporal Hung Chung-chiu.

Hung died on July 4 - just three days before his scheduled discharge from his compulsory military service - while being held in a military jail for bringing a banned camera phone on base.

Hung had reportedly been forced to exercise excessively and was denied water. His death has been attributed to "heatstroke".

The incident triggered a series of mass protests and precipitated the resignation of two Taiwanese defence ministers in the span of a week. The outcry, which comes as the Taiwanese military transitions to an all-volunteer force, also led to historic reforms in the military judicial system.

"Following this [incident], let me call upon all of you to be even braver and continue to have faith in upholding your duty in safeguarding the country and the people," Ma told the Taiwanese troops during a ceremony on Quemoy, which is located just two kilometres from the mainland city of Xiamen .

"Recently, the Hung case has led to the public's questioning of the military over the issue of human rights protection, while biased and unfair reports by certain media have further frustrated members of our troops," Ma said. "I share with you the same feeling and this is why I could not sit idly by."

Ma had promised a swift investigation and reforms within the military while he visited the family of the dead conscript.

Yesterday, he urged the Taiwanese troops to maintain discipline and refrain from anything that might damage the military's image. He also hit back at accusations by the pro-independence camp that he was putting improved relations with the mainland ahead of Taiwan's defence.

"Although tensions across the Taiwan Strait have gradually eased and cross-strait relations are now the most peaceful in more than 60 years, we should never be lax in terms of combat readiness," Ma said.

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