China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 3, 2016
Executive Summary: Over the past several days, the Global Times has incited populist sentiment over the tour bus fire incident. This may not be something that the Mainland authorities want to see. But public antipathy toward Taiwan independence on the Mainland is very real, and cannot be ignored. The tour bus fire incident took place on Taiwan. Taiwan authorities are responsible. They must make every effort to uncover the truth. They must invite Mainland experts to Taiwan. They must use forensic science to reconstruct the accident, and uncover the truth. The accident rate for Mainland tourists on Taiwan is undeniably too high. Are these accidents part of some larger pattern? A thorough investigation must be conducted, one that will enable the Mainland to unravel the mystery, and prevent the two sides from colliding head on.
Full Text Below:
During President Tsai Ing-wen's May 20 inaugural address, she said, "People expect the new government to solve problems". But two months later, the new government isn't solving problems. It's creating more problems. No wonder two recent polls show President Tsai's approval numbers plummetting.
Among the many problems the new government has created, the most outrageous is perhaps the tour bus fire incident that burned 26 Mainland tourists from Liaoning to death. The government pandered to politics and the police fell down on the job, worsening an already bad cross-Strait situation. When the accident first happened, the president declared "There can be no tourism without safety". Premier Lin declared the need to "checkup on the tourism industry". These high profile declarations were hollow. They included no expressions of empathy for the families of the victims burned to death. Arson investigators and crime scene investigators were clueless. The truth remains elusive, therefore the dark shadow cast by the incident continues to grow. Official cross-Strait relations following the DPP's return to power were already chilly. The political flames from the tour bus fire incident spread quickly. President Tsai eulogized the Taiwanese tour guide with a couplet, but expressed no sympathy whatsoever for the Mainland tourists who died. This provoked a major storm in the Mainland media, and will inevitably make cross-Strait relations worse.
Crash investigation and reconstruction is extremely difficult. Everyone on the bus perished. No witnesses survived. No one is left to testify. Clues are nowhere to be found. The flames charred the entire vehicle black. The vehicle lacked a GPS trip recorder. The company had no remote monitoring data, and nothing for investigators to latch onto. The only hope appears to be forensic evidence. The question arises, where are the forensic experts with public credibility?
The Mainland family members want "Mainland participation in the forensic investigation". But the Lin cabinet refused. As a result, it lost the moral high ground. Taiwan is supposedly an open society. Everything is supposedly open and transparent. There is no need for so-called "judicial sovereignty". Not only should forensic experts from the Mainland participate, so should forensic experts from other nations. That is how it is done in international arbitration. Crash investigation and reconstruction must be acceptable to all parties to ensure trust in the investigation. Sadly, Lin Chuan refused. Now clouds of suspicion hang above the Taiwan Strait.
Expert arson investigators on Taiwan investigated the tour bus fire incident. But the case is more than a traffic accident. Political recriminations and public skepticism have rapidly increased. Forensics investigations initially focused on the escape door latches and power overloads. This was not quite missing the forest for the trees, but did little to win the trust of the pubic and the victims' families. Was the vehicle "jury rigged"? The audio video systems may be subject to criticism. But they had little to do with the tour bus fire. The real problem is an inadequate tour bus system.
Taiwan has approximately 17,000 tour buses. Supply exceeds demand. The market consists primarily of Mainland tourists, pilgrims, and students on field trips or graduation trips. The number of Mainland tourists has fallen. The number of bookings by students is rapidly rising. But the Ministry of Education requires buses to be less than five years old. In other words, the buses depreciate much too rapidly. The industry cannot afford to invest in higher quality, safer vehicles. The result is the current vicious cycle.
Soon after the families of the victims returned to the Mainland, a string of revelations surfaced. The tour bus driver was badly intoxicated. A gasoline container was found inside the bus. The driver had been convicted of sexual assault. He was about to begin serving a prison sentence, and was also liable for civil penalties. Prosecutors and police issued a string of mealy-mouthed statements, saying "We do not rule out... [this, that, or the other]”. This created even more uncertainty. As a result, some began to suspect that the police had fabricated a story passing the buck onto the dead driver. Others suspected that a Taiwan independence driver committed an act of terrorism against Mainland tourists. All manner of bizarre speculation began to challenge the credibility of the forensic report.
The tour bus fire incident must revert to the status of a scientific investigation. The report must be made public. It must be subject to challenge. Only questioning, followed by explanations, followed by debate, can persuade everyone to accept the truth. Only such a process can restore objectivity and effectiveness to the justice system on Taiwan. The government's response following the incident was inappropriate. It failed to win over the families of the victims. It failed to take the moral high ground. As the families of the deceased left for the Mainland, they cried, "We demand the truth". Lest we forget, when Mainland authorities bungled the investigation of the Qiandao Lake incident, the families of the victims on Taiwan remained unconvinced. This triggered revulsion towards the Mainland and set back cross-Strait relations.
Over the past several days, the Global Times has incited populist sentiment over the tour bus fire incident. This may not be something that the Mainland authorities want to see. But public antipathy toward Taiwan independence on the Mainland is very real, and cannot be ignored. The tour bus fire incident took place on Taiwan. Taiwan authorities are responsible. They must make every effort to uncover the truth. They must invite Mainland experts to Taiwan. They must use forensic science to reconstruct the accident, and uncover the truth. The accident rate for Mainland tourists on Taiwan is undeniably too high. Are these accidents part of some larger pattern? A thorough investigation must be conducted, one that will enable the Mainland to unravel the mystery, and prevent the two sides from colliding head on.