Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) delivered his final annual policy address at the Taipei City Council on Thursday and Friday, during which he said it was unclear what “disturbing Taiwan” meant in the context of Chinese military aircraft operating near Taiwan and that if he were president, he too would “order aircraft to cross the median line of the Taiwan Strait.”
Ko made the comments when asked by city councilors about the city government’s plan to hold the Taipei-Shanghai Twin-City Forum via videoconference next week, even though the Taipei City Council in January approved a budget of nearly NT$1.4 million (US$46,751) for the forum with the proviso that “if Chinese Communist Party aircraft or warships continue to disturb Taiwan before the forum, the budget cannot be used.”
The forum — designed as a platform for non-political cross-strait exchanges — was launched in 2010 by then-Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), with the cities taking turns to host it.
Ko sparked controversy at the forum in 2015 and 2017 when he said that the “two sides of the Strait are one family.”
China’s People’s Liberation Army flew nine warcraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on July 8, while 10 entered the zone on Friday, including three that crossed the median line.
Asked by city councilors if the forum would go ahead next week even though Chinese aircraft have continued to “disturb” Taiwan, Ko said it was unclear what activity by the aircraft would constitute a disturbance, adding that if the Mainland Affairs Council says that the situation is unsuitable, the forum would be canceled.
“If the aircraft are disturbing Taiwan, why are they not being brought down?” he asked. “Would that be the president’s responsibility, or mine?”
“If the other side [China] is so despicable, then we should ask the president to stop bilateral trade, withdraw Taiwanese from China and prepare for battle,” he said.
Ko is no stranger to controversy. On Tuesday — a day after Taipei Deputy Mayor Tsai Ping-kun (蔡炳坤) fell ill, falling into a coma after an apparent stroke — Ko said that Tsai had been indignant over Minister of Culture Lee Yung-te’s (李永得) criticism of the city government’s handling of a National Taiwan Museum land ownership issue, seeming to imply that the criticism had something to do with Tsai’s health situation.
Also on Tuesday, Ko said that the city and the ministry had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to deal with the land issue, and that Lee was “too lazy and not paying attention to his work.”
However, when told that meeting minutes were the only documents that were signed, he laughed the issue off, saying: “Fine, meeting minutes are not an MOU.”
Ko also seems to be tied to agendas set in China.
When asked about the Twin-City Forum being brought forward from next month, he refused to reveal an exact date, saying it would be announced by Taipei and Shanghai after final negotiations.
As the mayor of Taiwan’s capital, chairman of the Taiwan People’s Party and a possible presidential candidate, Ko’s words should be scrutinized and he should be held accountable for his actions.
He might consider remarks such as “bringing aircraft down” or “flying over the median line” to be mere trash talk, but in an international setting, misperceptions can lead to irreversible consequences that cannot be easily laughed off.
Ko must remember that he was elected in Taiwan’s capital and has a responsibility to honestly report to and be monitored by city councilors, who represent the people who voted for him. He was not elected by Shanghai, so he has no obligation to report to it first.
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