The China Post staff

“Wow, how long did we wait?” one night owl complained to another, who was driving him home from a midnight karaoke bar before dawn yesterday. It was after 4 a.m. They stopped near Taoyuan to wait for a red police-operated traffic light to turn green. The night owls waited 7 long minutes to let a convoy of armored vehicles and heavy military trucks pass. “What the hell, are we seeing a war going on?” they asked themselves. Similar questions were asked by hundreds of fellow night owls far and near Taipei. The answer was given by Shi Hwei-you, director of the National Security Bureau, at the Legislative Yuan much later in the morning. “We had a troop maneuver,” Shi told opposition legislators, who questioned what was going on along the highway from Taipei to Taoyuan and further south to Hsinchu. Part of Operation Jade Mountain, the maneuver involved an armored battalion of the Military police Command.

Operation Jade Mountain, scheduled to start early next month, is a command post exercise. It will test the capability of the military to evacuate President Chen Shui-bian to safety from Taipei in time of emergency. “Our duty is,” Shi said, “to protect the president. The maneuver is part of Operation Jade Mountain.” In a pre-exercise maneuver, the battalion carried “cabinet ministers” aboard six CM 31 armored vehicles from Taipei to the Sixth Army headquarters in Taoyuan. Of course, no real ministers were on board. The armored personnel carriers were escorted by light combat tanks and followed by a train of supply trucks. It took at least five minutes for the entire convoy to pass a traffic light, though all the vehicles sped at 70 kilometers an hour. Begun at midnight, the maneuver came to an end at 5 a.m. “So far as the maneuver is concerned,” Shi said, “it’s not for a combat mission.” The scenario did not require President Chen to be transferred to his “safe” headquarters. “We didn’t use the CM 31 for the president this time,” Shi added. In time of war, however, the president would have to be evacuated together with his ministers, Shi said. Lt. Gen. Lu Tai-sheng, commandant of the Military Police Command, said at a Legislative Yuan defense committee meeting, his 239th armored battalion took part in the maneuver to test its capability of evacuating the government leaders. “They have been under training for a long time, and their capability had to be tested,” said General Lu. Kuomintang legislators condemned the maneuver as a sheer waste of money. “Not just that, it caused the public a lot of trouble and raised a war scare,” said Lin Yu-fang, a veteran Kuomintang lawmaker. Lin questioned if the NSB and the military police have plans to evacuate people to safety if Taiwan is attacked. Both Shi and Lu admitted there were no such plans. “The military wasted money just to create a war nightmare to impress upon the people the possibility of the enemy at the door before the two important elections,” Yu charged. Voters will go to the polls to elect a new Legislative Yuan in December and their president in March next year. Yu’s colleague, Shuai Hua-min, said the maneuver was absolutely unnecessary. He is a retired army lieutenant general. When a decapitation operation is launched, the armored battalion will have no chance to carry out a five-hour evacuation.