Ex-chief of general staff urges military-to-military dialogue with China

09/14/2022 08:27 PM
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Retired admiral Lee Hsi-ming. CNA file photo
Retired admiral Lee Hsi-ming. CNA file photo

Taipei, Sept. 14 (CNA) A former chief of the general staff of Taiwan's armed forces on Wednesday called on the military to establish direct military-to-military contacts with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China, warning the lack of such a channel could lead to war amid escalating cross-strait tensions.

In a radio interview, Lee Hsi-ming (李喜明), a retired admiral, said opening a two-way communications channel is crucial for both sides to avoid escalation due to misunderstanding or miscommunication.

This is especially important given the fact that the PLA is now sending warplanes across the Taiwan Strait median line on a daily basis following a visit to Taipei by United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early August, he said.

"Establishing a communication channel does not mean Taiwan is bowing to Chinese pressure," he said, and maintaining open dialogue is the only way to avoid accidents or misunderstandings on the frontline leading to immediate all-out war.

China stepped up its military maneuvers in early August this year after the visit of Pelosi on Aug. 2-3, holding several days of live-fire drills in at least six locations around Taiwan.

In addition, Chinese warplanes have regularly crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait since Pelosi's visit, which is considered a more provocative move than flying into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

However, the median line, while mostly adhered to by both China and Taiwan as an unofficial border in previous decades, has no legal standing, and China has said several times since 2020 that it does not recognize the existence of the line.

Lee also called on Taiwan's military to renew its rules of engagement so that frontline soldiers can adhere to the latest guidelines and respond appropriately to Chinese provocations.

Lee did not elaborate but he was most likely referring to Chinese drone incursions on Taiwan's frontline islands near the Chinese mainland.

Chinese netizens have previously posted a series of video and photo clips taken by civilian-operated drones showing them flying close to and filming military lookout posts in Kinmen, which were aimed at embarrassing Taiwan's military.

However, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) previously refrained from more aggressive countermeasures, such as shooting the drones down, to avoid further escalating cross-strait tensions.

Amid criticism, the MND made public its four-step response protocol for drone encounters, consisting of "firing warning flares, reporting the incursion, expelling the drone, and ultimately shooting it down" on Aug. 29 before troops stationed at Kinmen's Shi Island (獅嶼) reportedly shot down a Chinese civilian-operated drone for the first time on Sept. 1.

During Wednesday's radio interview, Lee also urged Taiwan to learn from Ukraine's Territory Defense Force by creating an all-volunteer Taiwanese territorial defense force that can defend the country alongside active military personnel in the event of a Chinese invasion.

Lee retired in July 2019 after 42 years of service in the Republic of China Navy. He served as chief of the general staff of the armed forces from 2017-2019 and is currently a senior research fellow at the Washington-based think tank Project 2049 Institute.

(By Chen Chun-hua and Joseph Yeh)

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