Taiwan Candidate Says She Can Run the Military
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI – Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is challenging President Ma Ying-jeou, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman, in the presidential election here slated for Jan. 14.
The election is expected to be close. Questions are being raised over Tsai’s qualifications as future commander in chief of the armed forces and whether she is committed to a strong defense.
Past DPP officials have expressed reluctance to support the military. A large number of party members, including former President Chen Shuibian, spent years in prison under KMT-imposed martial law during the “White Terror” period. From 1949 to 1987, the KMT imprisoned or executed more than 140,000 Taiwanese.
The KMT now has a policy of engagement with China, and many members advocate unification. The once-outlawed DPP is known for its pro-independence position, but has toned down the rhetoric in recent years. China has expressed a preference for working with the KMT to improve cross-Strait relations and has been hostile to DPP policies that run counter to unification.
Since Ma took office in 2008, China and Taiwan have moved closer economically and diplomatically. But there are fears that, if the KMT is ousted in January, China will react violently to the DPP’s return to power. Under Chen, now in prison for corruption, the DPP won the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.
During an Aug. 23 press conference, Tsai made it clear she had the necessary experience to command the military and work with the U.S. to improve Taiwan’s security.
Tsai was a senior adviser on the National Security Council (NSC) from 1999 to 2000 under then-President Lee Tung-hui of the KMT and served as minister of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Executive Yuan, from 2000 to 2004, under then-President Chen of the DPP.
Tsai said that when she served on the NSC, she “worked with the military and the intelligence service” and continued to “work with the military as MAC chair.”
This is an “area I am quite familiar with.” During Tsai’s press conference, she released the DPP’s new National Security Strategy white paper. The paper did not address military issues beyond emphasizing the importance of reinforcing the strategic partnership with the U.S.
According to the paper, “The Democratic Progressive Party believes that for the future, Taiwan must proceed to strengthen this strategic partnership, rebuild and deepen strategic mutual trust and strategic consensus, effectively coordinate Taiwan-U.S. interests in every respect, strengthen the institutional arrangements for Taiwan-U.S. engagement on security matters, and increase the depth and breadth of trade, social and cultural cooperation.”
The DPP would release a military white paper soon, Tsai said. “We are committed to a strong defense capability, not because we want to have a war with China, but because we believe that being equipped with a strong defense capability” will build the confidence Taiwan needs to face China and give us “the kind of leverage we need when we negotiate with China.”
Tsai said she was committed to the peace process with China, “but a military capability is something that we think is very important and should be given priority.” Regarding reports that the U.S. plans to deny Taiwan’s request for 66 F-16C/D fighter aircraft, Tsai said it was a “pity” and that after taking office her administration would continue to push for the release. “Air defense capability is always a priority for us.”
She defended her commitment to military modernization, but said “it is something we need to discuss with our friends [Japan and the U.S.] that have a military interest in the region.
“It’s obvious that if we face China alone, it is militarily almost impossible,” she said. “We have to face China together with others. This is about regional security, and we are part of the regional security.”
Tsai will leave for the U.S. on Sept. 12 for a two-day visit to Washington to meet with U.S. government officials, including the U.S. Congress and various think tanks.
1956: Born in Pingtung County, Taiwan
1984: Ph.D., London School of Economics and Political Science
1994-1998: Member of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC)
1999-2000: Senior adviser, National Security Council
2000-2004: Minister of the MAC 2004: Joined the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)
2004-2005: Senior adviser to President Chen Shui-bian
2005-2006: Member of the Legislative Yuan
2006-2007: Vice premier of the Executive Yuan 2008-present: DPP chairwoman