Thu, Jul 14, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Turning crisis into an opportunity

By Shu Chin-chiang 蘇進強

The accidental launch of a Hsiung Feng III missile by the Republic of China (ROC) Navy on July 1 has thrown society into an uproar and further damaged already frosty cross-strait relations.

“The implications of this incident are extremely serious,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) said. “Taiwan must assume responsibility and provide an explanation for what has happened.”

In a later statement, Zhang said: “The individuals in charge still do not understand the situation,” adding that the missile was aimed at China, yet Taiwan, in the first instance, informed another party of the incident.

Zhang’s comments expressed a doubt that is shared by people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, as well as neighboring Asia-Pacific nations.

As President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said: “The incident should absolutely not have happened.”

Unfortunately, it did.

The Tsai administration has been in power for less than two months, but the military has already committed a succession of mistakes that has seriously damaged the nation’s image and revealed systemic failure in the military that nearly set off a cross-strait crisis.

The endless dispute over the selection of a defense minister has led to low morale and a relaxation of discipline in the military, which has caused a series of accidents and mistakes. This is what former National Security Council deputy secretary-general Chen Chung-hsin (陳忠信) meant when he said that a “silent national security crisis” is under way.

Political commentator Nan Fang Shuo (南方朔) did not mince his words either, asking how Tsai would feel if China had accidentally fired a missile or dropped a bomb in the direction of Taiwan.

He said that Tsai should send an emissary to Beijing to provide an explanation and an apology, which might help repair cross-strait relations and prevent similar misunderstandings in the future.

The same water that conveys a boat also contains the power to sink it, and the tide of public opinion ebbs and flows like the sea. Tsai’s honeymoon has come to an end, and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which used to ingratiate itself with the public while in opposition, has now turned from being the accuser to being the accused.

The government’s approval rating is gradually being eaten away. Not only does the public lack trust in the military, the word on the street is that the government is facing a crisis of governance and trust.

Only a nation that is internally stable will be able to resist foreign aggression. Resisting an aggressor certainly does not mean dispatching troops or firing missiles willy-nilly; rather, it pertains to the government’s ability to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

The key question is whether Tsai’s national security team will be able to turn the crisis caused by the missile incident into an opportunity to strengthen mutual trust between Taipei and Beijing and reopen regular cross-strait communication channels.

Not only would this reduce the pressure on diplomacy and on Taiwan’s participation in international economic and trade organizations, it would also serve to thaw the frosty relationship with China, which has been on ice since the Tsai administration took over on May 20.

Since Zhang has already said that his government is unhappy with the way Taiwan has dealt with the situation, Tsai’s administration should take specific actions, such as sending a representative to Beijing to provide a full explanation and dispel any misgivings in China resulting from the incident.

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