Navy Rear Adm. Chang Feng-chiang was given a major demerit and transferred for failing to properly execute a recent military exercise off the coast of eastern Taiwan.
The commander of Fleet 168, comprising three frigates, was given the punishment, and might even face a court martial, for bringing his frigates toward the Japanese island of Yonaguni, about 100 km east of Taiwan, raising an alert in Japan, according to an Aug. 3 Apple Daily report.
The Navy admitted that the fleet, based in Suao Township in Yilan County, northeastern Taiwan, was not operating in an area planned for the drill, CNA reported that same day.
However, the Navy made no mention of the information detailed in a news report that the fleet commander had failed to carry out instructions to keep the fleet in a specific area during the drill in late July.
In a statement Aug. 3, the Navy said it had formed a task force to probe the incident and had brought the matter to the attention of military prosecutors.
On Sunday, the issue received wide media coverage as it was disclosed that both the Navy and the Ministry of National Defense actually knew of the fleet's location but did not order it to turn back or punish Chang after his fleet returned home -- for one week.
Not till a week later, when an "external force" intervened, did the Navy mete out the punishment -- a decision that has been described as the Navy trying to shift all the blame onto a single officer.
Following are excerpts of reports by major Taiwanese newspapers on the issue:
At the time of the so-called "blunder," the Navy's deputy commander-in-chief, who was acting as the exercise's grand judge, was on the same ship as Chang.
In addition, the fleet had "overstepped" into non-planned areas for quite a few hours in a row without being advised to turn back or being warned that it was violating the rules of the drill.
In fact, neither the Navy or the MND did anything about the incident until about one week afterward, and only after an "external force" had stepped in.
Was this "external force" Japan? Both the Navy and the MND have denied Japan was interfering in their investigation.
The Navy's chief inspector, Rear Adm. Chou Mei-wu, said Fleet 168 had "seriously violated" drill regulations and that its cable messages did not win acknowledgement from the supervising authorities.
A senior Navy officer said Chang led his fleet on the out- of-bounds sail for 11-and-a-half hours, which was a "serious violation of military discipline."
The officer went on that Air Force planes were part of that day's exercise. If the aircraft had followed Chang's lead and flown into non-planned air space, wouldn't that have caused "international misunderstanding and turmoil?"
He said that if Chang was not punished for overstepping, he might lead his fleet into "other countries' territorial waters" on some future occasion. (Aug. 5, 2012)
The United Daily News:
Rear Adm. Chou Mei-wu, the Navy's chief inspector, said the fleet's supervising authorities committed dereliction of duty by not demanding it to turn back despite knowing its location during the nearly 12 hours when it was out of bounds.
In response to the criticism that the Navy was punishing Chang because of its "cowardice" toward Japan, Chou said Chang was punished simply because he had violated drill rules, not because of Japanese concern.
Other military officers said that when the Japanese found out that Chang had led his fleet out of Taiwan's air defense identification zone, they immediately made inquiries to Taiwan's representative office in Japan.
However, the incident barely raised a ripple in Japan.
Besides, the fleet had moved within international waters without intruding into Japanese waters or creating any diplomatic trouble with Japan.
If anyone was to get punished, those on duty at the Ministry of National Defense, the Navy Headquarters, the fleet's command center and the exercise's supervising authorities should also get their due? (Aug. 5, 2012)
Senior military officials pointed out that the MND has formed a higher-level investigation team to look into the case than the Navy's probe team, to see whether the Navy has handled the case properly.
As for Chang, the sources said he can appeal his case within one month.
The sources noted, however, that it will be difficult for Chang to have his punishment overturned, because he apparently broke military exercise rules.
Chang remained low-key and thanked supporters from different sectors of society, saying, that "my wife and I do appreciate everyone. As a soldier, I'm truly sorry to say, I cannot make any public comment."
More officers other than Chang are expected to recieve punishment, according to the sources, such as Vice Adm. Pu Tse-chun, commander of the Navy fleet, who has requested disciplinary action for himself, and relevant officers among the exercise's supervising authorities. (Aug. 5, 2012)
(By S.C. Chang)