Taiwan names civilian to head defense ministry

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan on Monday named a civilian to head a defense ministry that is struggling to attract recruits and facing protests over the heat-stroke death of a soldier while he was confined in a military brig.

Andrew Yang, 58, was previously deputy defense minister and replaces Kao Hua-chu, who resigned on Monday. Premier Jiang Yi-huah announced the appointment without describing the reasons for Kao’s departure.

His appointment follows the death on July 3 of a soldier who was being punished for carrying a cellphone on base. University graduate Hung Chung-chiu, 24, died after being forced to perform rigorous calisthenics in sweltering heat and was three days from completing his mandatory 20-month service requirement. Four officers have been detained in connection with his death.

Prior to Yang’s nomination as deputy minister in 2009, he was secretary-general of the China Council of Advanced Policy Studies, a Taipei think tank concentrating on military affairs. He has traveled frequently to the U.S., where he maintains close ties with leading Pentagon officials. Despite shifting its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, Washington remains Taiwan’s moist important foreign defense partner.

Yang inherits a defense ministry beset by considerable turmoil. It is struggling to attract enough recruits to complete an ambitious conversion from a conscripted military force to an all-volunteer army by 2015. The negative fallout over Hung’s death makes the target seem more unlikely than ever.

The ministry also faces serious problems with the United States following espionage scandals involving high-ranking military officers and others who have made sensitive information available to China, including details of a sophisticated American command and control system sold to Taiwan.

In a March speech, the former de facto U.S. ambassador to Taiwan said the problem was severe enough to raise doubts about Taiwanese trustworthiness among American decision makers in the security sphere.

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