The Hsiung FENG III missile, one of which was accidentally fired by a Republic of China Navy vessel on Friday last week, was designed to target ocean-bound enemy vessels. Its maximum range means it can reach as far as the coast of China’s Fujian Province. It does not pose a threat to China’s inland areas. However, in terms of international relations, the missile blunder does pose a grave challenge to regional safety. To ignore that is dangerous.
There have long been tensions between neighboring countries in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in East Asia, where any two nations have spent more time with hackles raised than enjoying peaceful relations. Jingoism only compounds the situation — it leaves very little space for rational negotiations.
In the West, potential tensions are mitigated with political alliances such as the EU and military alliances such as NATO. These are lacking in the Asia-Pacific region.
Precisely because there is long-standing antagonism in the region and Taiwan happens to occupy the central position in the first island chain, Taipei must be extra prudent and handle foreign relations with pragmatism and flexibility.
Taiwan’s primary hypothetical threat from the north and south comes from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Taiwan has shown no ambition to expand its territory. However, a missile accidentally discharged by Taiwan, although not landing beyond the Taiwan Strait’s median line, could disrupt freedom of navigation in the Strait. As the missile was fired without warning, the cross-strait situation might have been severely aggravated.
Taiwan’s ability to impose the required level of military discipline might be questioned, and this could affect its participation in regional military cooperation and even its attempt to secure arms sales. The incident reveals the insufficiency of a hierarchy of control and safety measures in the military, which for a long time has only undergone training and not fought a campaign. It is evident that the military’s command and control system is seriously flawed.
The new government should fight to establish total command of the military and let military bureaucrats run it, while reaching out to other nations by taking part in regional military cooperation and exchanges.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) should exercise her role as commander-in-chief with more delicacy and depth. The training of a low-ranking military officer is already cumbersome enough, so frequent inspections are inappropriate.
However, what she can do is visit veterans on important holidays and listen to their advice — thus showing them the proper respect. She could also implement fair promotions for officers, take part in strategic deployments and systematically promote military bureaucrats. So far, most high-ranking military bureaucrats have been transferred from military offices, even though the National Defense Act (國防法) and the Organization Act of the Ministry of National Defense (國防部組織法) were implemented more than 10 years ago.
It is urgent that mutual trust and interactions between Taiwan and other nations in the region are enhanced. In the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan is one of the very few nations that do not observe PLA operations by engaging in military exercises with other nations in the region, so if anything goes wrong, misjudgements could lead to devastating consequences.
Taiwan’s military must be responsible and maintain strict discipline. Incidents such as this must not occur again. It is Taiwan’s duty to safeguard regional safety in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ernie Ko is vice executive director of Transparency International-Taiwan.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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