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DEFENSE/Civilian defense chief ends decades-long 'formalities' in armed forces

06/09/2024 03:38 PM
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Soldiers demonstrate close quarters combat during the National Day celebrations in Taipei on Oct. 10, 2011. CNA file photo
Soldiers demonstrate close quarters combat during the National Day celebrations in Taipei on Oct. 10, 2011. CNA file photo

Taipei, June 9 (CNA) Taiwan's new civilian Defense Minister Wellington Koo (顧立雄) has announced a decision to scrap a series of decades-old practices in the nation's armed forces viewed by many experts as mere "formalities."

Koo, who took office on May 20, said during a legislative hearing on June 6 that the decision was made to allow troops to focus more on practical training sessions and enhance their defense capabilities amid rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Noting that among the practices he wants to abolish soon are bayonet training and goose-stepping, the minister explained that traditional bayonet training is more of a formality and ceremonial with very little practical use in actual close combat in modern warfare.

In recent years, all conscripts have had to undergo close quarters combat training, which is why he announced the traditional training program would be discontinued, Koo told lawmakers.

In terms of goose-stepping, Koo said he is aware members of the armed forces and military cadets trained for months to march at the Republic of China (ROC) Military Academy in Kaohsiung to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Whampoa Military Academy.

Since the decision for the military to goose-step during the occasion was made by his predecessor, Koo said he would respect that decision by allowing the show to go ahead as planned on June 16 during the celebrations.

Photo courtesy of ROC Military Academy June 9, 2024
Photo courtesy of ROC Military Academy June 9, 2024

At future major military celebrations there will be no more goose-stepping, which serves only a ceremonial function, he said.

Troops attending future military marches will be required only to march in unison, he added.

During the June 6 hearing, Koo also announced changes to military regulations including lifting restrictions on commanding officers and their deputies taking leave at the same time, and allowing military personnel to freely travel abroad.

These moves are meant to make it easier for senior military personnel to take care of their families, according to Koo.

Previously, a military unit's commanding officer and deputy could not take leave at the same time, with one of them required to stay in the unit if the other was away.

In addition, previously military personnel could only join group tours when they wished to travel aboard on vacation. The Ministry of National Defense has argued that the rules was meant to prevent potential leaks of confidential military information if a serviceperson is traveling alone.

However, such restrictions turned out to be only a formality because it was difficult to verify if someone was traveling within a tour group or had strayed from the tour itinerary.

This rule had only caused inconvenience to military personnel and their dependents, Koo said.

Minister of National Defense Wellington Koo at a legislative hearing in Taipei Thursday. CNA photo June 6, 2024
Minister of National Defense Wellington Koo at a legislative hearing in Taipei Thursday. CNA photo June 6, 2024

The ROC military's traditional bayonet training was originally established in 1965 by combining American and Japanese styles of bayonet charge practices. Over the years, however, experts have criticized its practical use in close combat on the battlefield.

Koo, 65, succeeded his immediate predecessor Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) on May 20 as President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) took office, becoming the first civilian defense minister in over a decade in Taiwan.

FEATURE/First civilian defense chief in a decade, Wellington Koo faces reform challenge

The most recent civilian minister was Andrew Yang (楊念祖) during the administration of Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Kuomintang, who was in the post for just six days before resigning over a plagiarism row in 2013.

Scholars interviewed by CNA said they believe Koo's appointment is intended to facilitate the desire of Lai's incoming administration to carry out fundamental reform of the nation's armed forces.

(By Matt Yu, Wu Shu-wei and Joseph Yeh)

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