As military tensions across the Taiwan Strait tick ever upwards against the backdrop of the record number of incursions of Chinese fighter jets into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), a retired air force general from Taiwan was quoted by the Global Times (環球時報)—a subsidiary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece People’s Daily (人民日報)—as stating that China had the right to be in Taiwan’s ADIZ because the military aircraft were patrolling “on their own national territory” (自己的國土上). In the interview, the tabloid mouthpiece of the CCP noted, “when talking about the recent PLA patrols in the southwest airspace of Taiwan Island, Hsia Ying-chou told the Global Times reporter that the PLA fighter planes, which appeared in the southwest airspace of Taiwan Island were on their own national territory, and they had full rights to patrol.” The retired general’s comments sparked outrage among members of Taiwan’s ruling party who called for revoking Hsia’s military pension and suggested legal action may be taken for possible violations of laws, the incident reignited concerns within the country over CCP’s political warfare activities against the island.
Who is General Hsia?
General (ret.) Hsia Ying-chou (夏瀛洲, b. 1939) served for nearly four decades in the Republic of China (ROC) armed forces and obtained the rank of general in the ROC Air Force. General Hsia served in senior positions as deputy chief of the general staff, strategic advisor to the president, the commandant of the Air Force Academy, and the first president of the military university after it was reorganized as the National Defense University (國防大學). He retired from active military service in 2003.
Hsia has been no stranger to controversy since his retirement. An outspoken advocate for unification between Taiwan and China, Hsia has regularly participated in delegations organized by retired General Hsu Li-nong (許歷農; b. 1918) through the New Revolutionary Alliance (新同盟會)—a non-governmental organization Hsu started named after Sun Yat-sen’s underground movement, which advocates for cross-Strait unification—and has accompanied retired generals from Taiwan to visit China since 2010 through the Zhongshan-Whampoa Cross-Strait Affairs Forum (中山黃埔兩岸情論壇). The forum is one of the most prominent conduits for retired generals and military officers on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to interact with one another.
Hsia’s recent comments do not represent the first time that the retired general made controversial comments that made the news. In 2011, when Hsia attended the second annual Zhongshan-Whampoa Cross-Strait Affairs Forum in Beijing, he was cited by Chinese state-media as supposedly stating: “In the future, there will be no more divisions between the national army and the communist army. We are all the Chinese army.” While Hsia denied having made those specific remarks, the damage had already been done. The reported statement caused a major political controversy within Taiwan—even President Ma Ying-jeou lamented how Hsia’s action was “betraying the people of Taiwan.”
Then in 2012—according to the Global Times—Hsia attended the “Academic Symposium on the Xi’an Incident Across the Taiwan Straits” hosted by China Strategy Culture Promotion Association (中國戰略文化促進會) and the Xi’an Incident Research Association (西安事變研究會). At the conference, Hsia reportedly stated: “The Nationalist Army and the People’s Liberation Army can be said to have different philosophies, but for the unification of the Chinese nation, the goals are completely the same.”
More recently at the end of 2016, Hsia attended the high-profile 150th anniversary celebration of Mr. Sun Yat-sen’s (孫中山; b. 1866) birthday held in Beijing. Sun was the founder of the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and the Republic of China, and is often revered in Taiwan as the “Father of the Country” (國父). Beijing rolled out the red carpet for the “revolutionary hero” in a high-powered ceremony that was attended by senior Chinese cadres, which also included participation by retired senior military officers from Taiwan. Hsia was among 32 retired military officers from the Taiwan military who sat in the audience to listen to General Secretary Xi Jinping’s speech, and was seen on Chinese-state run television standing up for the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China. This event shook Taiwan politically and brought into public view the threat of CCP political warfare and efforts to co-opt Taiwan’s retired military brass through united front activities.
Another related event that underscores the troubling trend of retired military veterans— especially older retired generals—from Taiwan who have apparently been coopted into supplicants of the CCP is the case of retired General Hsu Li-nong (the convener of the New Revolutionary Alliance). Already 103 years old, during his military career General Hsu once served as director of the Ministry of National Defense’s Political Warfare Department from 1983 to 1987. In that role, he was the senior officer responsible for countering communist ideology and psychological warfare. Hsu turned into a vocal advocate for unification with the PRC after his retirement. In 2017, the retired general issued a public letter urging the two sides to issue a communiqué stating that there is only “One China in the world, Taiwan and ‘mainland’ are a part of China, China’s territory and sovereignty brook no division.”
The Function of Huang Fu-shin
As with many other military veterans as well as their families, Hsia and also Hsu have been part of the Nationalist Party’s Huang Fu-shin Party Branch (黃復興黨部). Officially known as the “Party Headquarters for Retired People from the National Army,” its members include retired officers and soldiers and their dependents, as well as affiliated veteran institutions. Since its members account for a significant proportion of the party members (roughly 25 percent in 2020) and boasts a high mobilization rate, it is considered highly influential, especially for intra-party elections. It is noteworthy that nearly 60 percent of Huang Fu-hsing members reportedly voted for Chang Ya-chung (張亞中) in the KMT’s recent chairmanship election.
The current head of Huang Fu-shin, handpicked by the newly minted KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫, b. 1961), is retired Lieutenant General Chi Lin-liang (季麟連, b. 1947). Chi graduated from the Army Command and Military Academy and the War College of the National Defense University. He once served as the commander of the ROC Marine Corps, joint logistics, and strategic adviser to the Presidential Office. In 2019, Chi attended a united front conference in China commemorating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Chi began his current position in October and landed in hot water after he told a radio show that any country can fly in the skies over the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島), which he referred to as “international airspace.” In reference to the uptick in Chinese fighter jets, Chi reportedly said “[l]et them come through—it’s fine.” Chi’s comments appeared to be an effort to downplay the significance of Chinese military patrols, and to shift the blame to the Tsai government for fanning the flames of public concerns. Chi said in a news interview that “the CCP’s full-scale exercises are not a harassment to Taiwan,” but that the Tsai government is “making people panic.”
The recurring pattern of some military veterans in Taiwan engaging in overt political activities and their associations with the Huang Fu-shin are difficult to separate from one another. On a related note, the woven nature of the Huang Fu-shin with the Nationalist Party highlights the complicated nature of the Party’s internal predicament regarding ongoing reform efforts. While such individual comments by Hsia may be justly characterized as inappropriate and distasteful, they also raise an important question: just how much influence do Hsia and other retired generals—now in their 80s, 90s, and even 100s—have on younger junior officers (or for that matter, the general population)? The answer to these questions, in addition to the severity of act, should weigh on the degree to which any recourse would necessarily need to be considered. In any case, it seems clear that their influence among Huang Fu-shin members and the Nationalist Party remains strong. This shines a spotlight on the difficulty faced by the government in regulating some activities on the part of its retired senior military personnel, while balancing that with their right to freely express themselves and engage in political activities within a democratic political system.
The main point: A recent case in which a retired Taiwan Air Force General claimed China had the right to be in Taiwan’s ADIZ has reignited concerns over the CCP’s efforts to co-opt Taiwan’s retired military brass through united front activities.