It is now a week since Typhoon Morakot struck Taiwan. Amid growing public anger, the government is struggling to demonstrate that it can handle this crisis and its formidable ramifications.
Even now, thousands of people remain trapped in mountain villages — running out of food and running out of time. The risk of disease is growing. Official rescue efforts, including military helicopters and special squads on the ground, are finally beginning to resemble an operation that reflects a disaster of this enormity.
But it remains a mystery how a government with one of the most combat-ready militaries in the world at its disposal can allow so many people to be in harm’s way for so long.
Stricken areas in the central and southern mountains are now even more vulnerable to flash flooding and mudslides given the massive damage inflicted on mountain topography. The volume of debris thrown downstream — violently widening and raising river beds, in places forming dams — and the collapse of natural water retention mechanisms in catchment areas mean the risk of severe flooding has increased in the short term, hampering reconstruction efforts and forcing governments to reassess the viability of dozens of communities.
It would be preferable to say that discussion of political fallout from this disaster should wait until all victims are out of harm’s way. The problem is that disarray in sections of the official rescue effort and the utter ineptitude of the government in communicating with the public demand accountability now.
This is not merely because natural justice demands swift action, but because replacing Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) — whom the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act (災害防救法) authorizes to coordinate disaster relief, though this is barely perceptible in his behavior — and key ministers could fortify rescue missions and save lives.
Meanwhile, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) continues to display a stunning lack of leadership by trading in risible word games, insisting that he has not refused offers of material assistance from foreign governments. The fact is that his Presidential Office spokesman, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the military stated a few days ago that no assistance was required.
Ma’s sophistry comforts no one and solves nothing. The key here is not the letter of a law or the exactitude of public pronouncements, but whether the president and the Cabinet are utilizing resources competently and quickly and solving problems even as lives hang in the balance.
Now that the government has admitted to gaps in its disaster preparedness in requesting assistance from overseas, there is another issue that is worth considering.
Following the 921 Earthquake in 1999, US medical professionals studying the adequacy of the response identified a lack of central command, poor communication, lack of cooperation between the government and the military and various medical logistics problems as issues that demanded government attention.
Elsewhere, Taiwan’s Red Cross, in conjunction with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, spent three years developing a handbook and training manuals to improve and promote disaster response. The materials were bilingual and hundreds of copies were produced. But the program, which required ongoing training, allegedly floundered after a management change. The new team, according to a Red Cross report in May 2005, suffered from “limited upper management interest.”
The secretary-general of the new management team was Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌).
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) chairman Mark Liu (劉德音) said in an interview with CNN on Sunday that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would render the company’s plants inoperable, and that such a war would produce “no winners.” Not only would Taiwan’s economy be destroyed in a cross-strait conflict, but the impact “would go well beyond semiconductors, and would bring about the destruction of the world’s rules-based order and totally change the geopolitical landscape,” Liu said in the interview, according to the Central News Agency. Bloomberg columnist Hal Brands wrote on June 24: “A major war over Taiwan could create global economic
Amid a fervor in the global media, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her congressional delegation made a high-profile visit to Taipei. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) awarded a state honor to her at the Presidential Office. Evidently, the occasion took on the aspect of an inter-state relationship between the US and the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan, despite no mutual state recognition between the two. Beijing furiously condemned Pelosi’s visit in advance, with military drills in the waters surrounding coastal China to check the move. Pelosi is a well-known China hawk, and second in the line of succession to
A stark contrast in narratives about China’s future is emerging inside and outside of China. This is partly a function of the dramatic constriction in the flow of people and ideas into and out of China, owing to China’s COVID-19 quarantine requirements. There also are fewer foreign journalists in China to help the outside world make sense of developments. Those foreign journalists and diplomats who are in China often are limited in where they can travel and who they can meet. There also is tighter technological control over information inside China than at any point since the dawn of the
Almost as soon as the plane carrying a US delegation led by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi took off from Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) on Thursday, Beijing announced four days of live-fire military drills around Taiwan. China unilaterally cordoned off six maritime exclusion zones around Taiwan proper to simulate a blockade of the nation, fired 11 Dongfeng ballistic missiles and conducted coordinated maneuvers using naval vessels and aircraft. Although the drills were originally to end on Sunday, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Eastern Theater Command issued a statement through Chinese state media that the exercises would continue,