Body advises against demilitarizing frontline islets

By Joseph Yeh ,The China Post

The Legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee yesterday passed a non-binding resolution calling for the military not to demilitarize two outlying islets near China. The resolution stipulates that the military could downsize the number of troops and soldiers stationed at Dadan (大膽) and Erdan (二膽), two islets surrounding the offshore Kinmen County.

However, the military should not withdraw all military personnel stationed at the two frontline islets for national security reason, the resolution states. The two islets lie only 7 nautical miles from Xiamen in China’s Fujian province and are currently occupied by military personnel. They are off-limits to the public. The resolution was passed in response to the cabinet’s plan for the Ministry of National Defense (MND) to hand over the security of the two islets to the Kinmen county government as part of allowing tourists to visit the area. The cabinet approved the plan for demilitarization on Sep. 12 and the military has been preparing to have the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) and other law enforcement authorities take over responsibility for the islets’ security. The demilitarization project, however, has drawn concern from lawmakers across party lines, saying that the move could weaken national security. Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), a senior member of the committee and the initiator of the defense committee’s resolution, said he was strongly opposed to the Cabinet’s plan.

The two islets are military outposts where the Republic of China government has recorded significant victories in fending off Chinese military incursions.

Lawmakers’ Opposition Lin said the two islets have strategic importance and symbolic meaning and the military should not remove all the military personnel stationed there simply because the Kinmen County government wants to attract Chinese tourists. “Only a defeated armed forces would pull back,” he said. Asked to comment on the Cabinet’s proposal, Defense Minister Yen Ming (嚴明), who fielded questions during the committee yesterday, remained tight-lipped about whether the military will withdraw from the two islets as planned. The demilitarization plan has been approved by the Cabinet and the military is now moving toward handing the islets’ management to Kinmen government before transforming them into tourist destinations, Yen said.

But since the plan has drawn public concern, he said the ministry will take advice from lawmakers. The Kinmen government reached an agreement with the military earlier this year to demilitarize the islets and to open them up to visitors, including those from mainland China. Kinmen previously asked that the two islets be opened to tourists but that military personnel continue to be stationed there as they are a selling point for tourism. This proposal was rejected by the MND, citing national security concerns.