Taiwan vows to bring back missing soldier from China as questions over his ‘deserter’ status lurk

Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen speaks during a news conference in Taipei on 27 January 2023  (REUTERS)
Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen speaks during a news conference in Taipei on 27 January 2023 (REUTERS)

Taiwan’s defence minister vowed on Tuesday to bring back the soldier who disappeared from an offshore island and has now been found in mainland China.

Chiu Tai-san, minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, told reporters that China had notified them that the soldier, surnamed Chen, is currently in China.

“We certainly hope to bring him back home. So how will we get him back? There are alternative channels we are pursuing,” he said. But did not elaborate on what those alternative channels meant.

The Taiwanese soldier was reported missing from Erdan island following a roll call, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry said in a statement last week on Thursday. It said that they had set up a special task force to locate him.

He was found on Monday.

Erdan is part of the Taipei-controlled Kinmen islands. It is located less than 5km from the Chinese port city of Xiamen in the southeastern Fujian province.

Meanwhile, Mr Chiu denied reports that the Taiwanese soldier had fled from abusive treatment by the military.

He, however, said that the defence ministry has mechanisms to determine whether the soldier should be identified as a deserter.

“The defence ministry and coast guard administration are actively understanding the relevant progress and situation,” he added.

When asked whether the soldier could have shared classified military information with the Chinese, he replied: “Regardless of whether he has any such capability, which we neither confirm nor deny, we would not need to make any large-scale strategic adjustments to mitigate any information provided by this one individual.”

China’s People’s Liberation Army frequently sends its aircraft and warships close to Taiwan, in an attempt to intimidate the island – which it claims as its own despite never having governed it.

Taiwan’s government, meanwhile, rejects Beijing’s claims and says that only the people of Taiwan can determine their future.