National Security Requires Honest Communications
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 7, 2016
Executive Summary: The accidental launching of a guided missile, and the South China Sea crisis, are trials by fire for President Tsai Ing-wen and her new government. They test her ability to assess and respond to the big picture. Tsai Ing-wen's fumbling of the accidental missile launch obviously undermined her credibility. She paid too much attention to domestic political consequences, while completely ignoring the strategic picture, particularly the reaction of the Mainland. Her blindness over the South China Sea crisis is likely to lead to the same mistakes in the future. We call on Tsai to exercise caution.
Full Text Below:
The so-called “ruling” on South China Sea sovereignty will be announced tomorrow. The People's Liberation Army held a week-long large-scale military exercise in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and North China Sea. Hundreds of warships and warplanes took part in a show of force against the United States and neighboring countries. Meanwhile, on the Taiwan side, a non-commissioned officer in the ROC Navy mistakenly launched a Hsiung Feng III missile. Yet the Tsai government swept the matter under the rug. It cited "Typhoon Prevention" as pretext for the withdrawal of frigates stationed at Taiping Island. This retreat in the face of crisis has left the public on Taiwan flabbergasted.
The government's priorities must be well considered. They cannot be based on fleeting whims. Even wise men sometimes make mistakes. The Tsai government on the other hand, is totally inexperienced. Its officials do not understand their larger responsibilities. Blunders and tardy responses are inevitable. Over the past month, one blunder has followed another. That everyone has seen. The greatest danger is that Tsai government actions may appear self-assured, but may be nothing more than empty bravado or kneejerk responses. Either sends the wrong message, both domestically and internationally. This is deeply troubling.
Take the accidental missile launch for example. The Tsai government lacked all sense of urgency, proportionality, or focus. First, it Tsai government lacked all sense of urgency. It was far too slow to respond. President Tsai was in the United States when she learned of the incident. She was accompanied by the Secretary General of the National Security Council and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. She should have convened a provisional meeting of high-level national security council members immediately, in order to evaluate possible responses. Instead she “hung out” at a strictly ceremonial banquet for “overseas Taiwanese” for four long hourss, before finally convening a national security meeting. Seconds count during a national security crisis. A four hour delay during a major crisis could seriously harm the nation's interests. That is hardly something the ROC can afford.
Second, the Tsai government lacked all sense of proportionality. Its priorities were upside down. A guided missile fired in the direction of the Mainland, is a hostile and provocative act. Even if one assumes it was a mistake, the first party that should have been notified was the Mainland. Instead, Tsai Ing-wen first notified the United States, then one by one notified Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines, pointedly ignoring Beijing. How is the other side supposed to react to Tsai's attitude? Cross-Strait relations are currently at a low ebb. But proper communications during a crisis facilitate a thaw. Unfortunately the new government's obliviousness merely made matters worse.
Third, the Tsai government lacked all sense of focus. It considered anything that might have political repercussions, but ignored everything of strategic importance. A lowly sergeant single-handedly launched a guided missile worth billions toward the Mainland. This appalling act of negligence in military weapons handling was a thousand times more serious than the death of Hung Chung-chiu. Yet the Tsai government's first concern was to shield Minister of Defense Feng Shi-kuan. It searched far and wide to hunt down those responsible for the leak. To provide the public with whipping boys for their wrath, the Tsai government ordered the naval officers to kneel before the family of the fishing boat captain. In what must be the height of absurdity, green camp legislators colluded with the green media to spin the farce as evidence of the Hsiung Feng III missile's superior performance. This amounted to a real life example of “covering one's ears while stealing a bell”. The Tsai government's response showed that it failed to engage in any soul searching whatsoever.
Now take the Tsai government's withdrawal of warships from Taiping Island. The so-called “ruling” on South China Sea sovereignty will soon be announced. Neighboring countries are on tenterhooks, closely following developments. The Republic of China clearly possesses sovereignty over Taiping Island, the largest island in the South China Sea. Yet the Tsai government chose this very moment to withdraw Coast Guard cutters from Taiping Island, and lied to the public about "Typhoon Measures". Does the Tsai government take people for fools? The Coast Guard cutters will not return to Taiping Island before the end of the typhoon season. Exactly what sort of message is the Tsai government sending to neighboring countries with this self-initiated evacuation?? What good will dispatching the warship Weihsing to the island for three to five days do?
Taiping Island is remote. It is admittedly difficult to resupply. But it has long been ROC territory. The South China Sea has enormous strategic importance. Cong Zhi Niao Reef is the size of three tamami mats. Yet Japan is busy building it up. Taiping Island, by contrast, boasts lush forests and ancient wells. Yet the Tsai government sees it as nothing more than a hot potato. Does the Tsai government intend to hand it over to others before it will be happy? President Tsai has long been mealy-mouthed in her policy pronouncements. She has habitually muddled through by talking out of both sides of her mouth. Her withdrawal of Coast Guard cutters from Taiping Island reveals her cowardice and reluctance to defend the nation's territorial sovereignty. She lacks the necessary resolve and aggressiveness. When it comes to cozying up to the US or fawning over the Japanese however, she is more than willing to be a pawn manipulated by foreign powers. That is even more inexcusable.
The accidental launching of a guided missile, and the South China Sea crisis, are trials by fire for President Tsai Ing-wen and her new government. They test her ability to assess and respond to the big picture. Tsai Ing-wen's fumbling of the accidental missile launch obviously undermined her credibility. She paid too much attention to domestic political consequences, while completely ignoring the strategic picture, particularly the reaction of the Mainland. Her blindness over the South China Sea crisis is likely to lead to the same mistakes in the future. We call on Tsai to exercise caution.
2016-07-11 01:04 聯合報 聯合報社論