The manner in which the government handled the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel last week provided ample evidence of the deficiencies in intelligence gathering by the national security apparatus, analysts say.
On being informed of the incident on the night on March 26, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), at the time on a state visit to Palau, called emergency meetings with security officials and ordered the activation of Taiwan’s national security mechanism.
The following day, Ma also held a conference call with senior officials in Taipei the to obtain additional information.
Liu Shih-chung (劉世忠), a research fellow at the Taiwan Brain Trust think tank, said the national security team apparently did a poor job of keeping the president informed on the latest developments in the Korean Peninsula.
Liu, an adviser to former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), said a satellite phone system is used to keep the president informed at all times when he travels abroad.
Apparently, the system did not work on this occasion, Liu said, referring to claims by reporters traveling with Ma who said the president was only made aware that a South Korean navy vessel had sunk when Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) was asked to comment on the incident by the Central News Agency (CNA) on the night of March 26.
The Ministry of National Defense, however, said it contacted the American Institute in Taiwan the night of the incident and immediately reported the matter to Ma.
In addition to the sinking of the South Korean vessel, Liu said that Ma also appeared clueless as to whether Taiwan had received an invitation to attend this year’s WHA when questioned by Taiwanese reporters on the matter during his visit to Nauru.
Liu was referring to the fact that although Taiwanese media reported on March 24 that Taiwan had received an invitation to attend the WHA, president Ma, at the time in Nauru, informed reporters that no notification had been received.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) later said he informed Ma as soon as the invitation was received. Lo confirmed that Ma had been aware of this development, but thought it more appropriate for the foreign ministry to break the news.
Joanne Chang (裘兆琳), who served as National Security Council deputy secretary-general under the Chen administration, said she was curious about which channels president Ma had used to obtain information on the sinking of the South Korean navy vessel that informed his subsequent decisions.
Referring to a claim by media that Ma was only informed about the situation following an inquiry from CNA, Chang said the government must learn from the episode because it cannot rely on the media to when dealing with developing crises.
After being strongly criticized for its slow reaction to the devastation caused by Typhoon Morakot in August, the Ma administration appeared to have performed better this time, Chang said, referring to Ma’s remarks that he called three national security meetings in the 15 hours after being informed of the Korean incident.
During Typhoon Morakot, Ma waited until six days after the typhoon hit the nation and killed hundreds before calling a National Security Council meeting and activating the national security mechanism
Despite the alleged delay in acquiring information on the sinking of the South Korean vessel, Liu said Ma deserved credit for activating the national security mechanism and ordering military officials to meet at the military’s Hengshan Headquarters — the national emergency military command center — to monitor developments.