National Security Council Can No Longer Remain a Loose Cannon
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 17, 2016
Executive Summary: When Tsai Ing-wen first assumed the presidency, she was desperate to win public trust in the DPP government. Therefore she vowed to maintain the status quo, to comply with the provisions and amendments of the ROC Constitution. These include the "Act Governing Relations Between People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area", and constitutional interpretations pertaining to cross-Strait relations. She hoped to ensure "sustainable, incident-free", peaceful and stable cross-Strait relations, and assured everyone during her inaugural address that "We are ready."
Full Text Below:
When Tsai Ing-wen first assumed the presidency, she was desperate to win public trust in the DPP government. Therefore she vowed to maintain the status quo, to comply with the provisions and amendments of the ROC Constitution. These include the "Act Governing Relations Between People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area", and constitutional interpretations pertaining to cross-Strait relations. She hoped to ensure "sustainable, incident-free", peaceful and stable cross-Strait relations, and assured everyone during her inaugural address that "We are ready."
But the new regime has been in power nearly two months. Six months, if one begins counting from the DPP's election victory. The record of the Tsai regime's national security team has been even worse than Cabinet Chief Lin Chuan's characterization of “utter chaos”. Former National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi and other National Security Council members from the Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian eras, have expressed grave concerns. They fear that afraid peace in the Taiwan Strait may be set back, or even go from Cold Peace to Cold Confrontation, even to Cold War. Taiwan's prosperity, even its survival, could be at risk.
The Hague “ruling” on the South China Sea was extremely unfavorable. The Tsai regime's national security team was unprepared. When the “ruling” was announced, it lacked any prepared response. It even withdrew our Coast Guard cutters before the announcement, then redispatched warships to the region in a panic. The entire procedure, from beginning to end, was a fiasco. Fortunately, once the “ruling” was announced, the Tsai regime issued a righteous declaration regarding the ROC's sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea, including Taiping Island. It belatedly restored a degree of public confidence in the Tsai regime. The Mainland expressed the same sentiments, and established a fragile basis for cross-Strait interaction and trust, the first since May 20.
But the South China Sea issue requires more than Tsai Ing-wen standing on the deck of the Kangding class Dihua cruiser and making pro forma speeches. Above all the National Security Council must formulate strategic plans. For example, on the South China Sea issue, the two sides need military confidence building measures. We must link the historical 11 dashed line to our sovereignty over Taiping Island. We must link it to “one China” under which sovereignty is unified even though jurisdiction is divided. This does not detract from the reality of Republic of China sovereignty. In fact, it is entirely consistent with Article 4 of the Constitution, which speaks to "inherent territory". This is entirely consistent with the spirit of the 1992 Consensus, and has positive implications for cross-Strait relations.
Furthermore, the South China Sea is the Republic of China's strategic domain, and a symbol of the two sides shared heritage. The Tsai regime national security team cannot see the forest for the trees. It is preoccupied with distancing itself from Ma Ying-jeou's "East China Sea Peace Initiative". It is determined to curry favor with the United States and Japan, while distancing itself from Mainland China. In the process however, it is undermining our national sovereignty and the rights of Taiwan fishermen in our islands' Exclusive Economic Zones. It is also missing an historic opportunity to re-establish trust with the Mainland.
At a deeper level, the key to peaceful cross-Strait relations is whether the national security team can put people first, and get past its "If Ma Ying-jeou did it, then it must be wrong" attitude. It must cease demonizing the 1992 Consensus and turning the 1992 Consensus into an insurmountable barrier.
The National Security Council is the president's advisory body on national security policy. But the National Security Bureau is part of the National Security Council. Therefore "consultation" has a very broad meaning. It includes national strategic planning, defense policy and strategy, national crisis prevention, crisis management, counter-terrorism, as well as post-crisis damage control and communications. According to the Organic Law for the National Security Council, it is the body by which a civilian president commands the military, makes military preparations, wages wars and ends wars. It is an important national security entity whose importance is self-evident.
But with the exception of NSB Chief Yang Kuo-chiang, Tsai Ing-wen's national security team, who are the other members? Are they qualified in national security, national defense strategy, the organization of a professional military? Take the current national security team members for example. National Security Council Secretary-General Joseph Wu and two deputy secretary-generals, along with Advisory Committee members are DPP elites. But can they transcend the DPP's narrow mindset, and put national survival and security strategy ahead of partisan political advantage? So far all they have done is hold forth on "Taiwan warships made by Taiwan. Taiwan warplanes made by Taiwan”. Would such projects be money pits? Would they be pragmatic and feasible? That remains to be seen.
Minister of Defense Feng Shi-kuan is now far removed from national security matters. The “little white dog” animal abuse case, and the Hsiung Feng III missile launch fiasco, highlighted the Tsai regime's incompetence. Has this led to a rare consensus in public opinion? Tsai Ing-wen's handling of the matter has undermined the prestige of the commander in chief and the morale of our nation's military.
President Tsai rarely had any contact with the nation's military in the past. Upon taking office she conduced inspections. Her public statements about the military have been measured. But as far as stabilizing the military, boosting morale, restoring discipline, she still has a long way to go.
Therefore we propose the following. First, Tsai must reorganize the national security team, including the Minister of Defense. Those who need to be replaced, must be replaced. Professionalism and performance must take precedence. They must trump DPP ideology. Appointments must not be a matter of political patronage.
Second, if for the sake of Taiwan's survival and the well-being of the public the Tsai regime must make a complete flip-flop, why not? The national security team should help President Tsai find a way out of her self-imposed "1992 Consensus" quagmire. It should use the South China Sea and Taiping Island issues to build cross-Strait trust. As soon as possible, Tsai should arrange to set foot on Taiping Island and declare our sovereignty.
Third, Tsai must fully implement a National Security Council crisis management mechanism. Restore the office of National Security Council spokesman. Integrate it with the Ministry of Defense, the National Security Bureau, and National Police Administration crisis prevention and communication mechanisms.
"Consulting masters ensures victory. Consulting novices ensures defeat". President Tsai Ing-wen's appointees to the national security team will determine victory or defeat. It all hinges on her whims.