Taiwan's security needs new helmsman

The catastrophe of Typhoon Morakot has attracted intense public criticism of the incompetence, passivity and arrogance of President Ma Ying-jeou's Kuomintang administration in crisis management and led to widespread demands across partisan boundaries for the dismissal of Premier Liu Chao-shiuan and the appointment of a new Cabinet with more modern concepts, more proactive leadership and less bureaucratic airs. However, no less crucial is the dangerous gap exposed in Taiwan's national security decision-making and policy management exposed by Morakot's onslaught.
The credibility of Ma's national security team has been strained to the breaking point by the contrast between KMT government claims that its proposed "economic cooperation framework agreement" with the authoritarian People's Republic of China "only concerns economics" and does not impinge on "sovereignty" and the insistence of PRC scholar-officials earlier this month in Taipei that ECFA is a step toward "unification."
But the direct threat on the lives of Taiwan citizens posed by the NSC's slavish attitude was starkly demonstrated in the flap over an Aug. 11 notice sent by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Taiwan embassies and representative offices to turn down foreign rescue and relief assistance offers from the United States, Japan, Singapore and over 30 other countries.
While turning down help from long-time allies, the Ma government agreed to accept donations and material assistance, including prefabricated housing from the PRC, which interfered with the arrival of foreign rescue teams to Taiwan in the wake of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck central Taiwan in Sept. 21, 1999.
Although Deputy Foreign Minister Andrew Hsia tendered his resignation to take responsibility, few believe that such a decision could have been made by a deputy foreign minister without vetting by Su or even Ma himself.
Indeed, KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang yesterday declared that the MOFA was "bearing the blame" for the decision to refuse foreign assistance that, in his view, must have been made by the NSC secretary-general himself.
The NSC and its secretary-general cannot avoid its share of responsibility for gross errors of judgment, including the failure to grasp the gravity of the disaster and the urgency of foreign rescue assistance in the crucial days immediately after Typhoon Morakot hit southern Taiwan and the decision to allow Ma's desire to appease Beijing to override the need to save Taiwan lives.
Moreover, the laxity of the Ma government's crisis response management is also linked to inability of the NSC team to cast its vision beyond cross-strait relations to devote attention to the "non-traditional" national security issues of improving the reaction speed and efficiency of disaster prevention and emergency response systems and global warming, environmental protection, national land recovery and epidemic prevention and response.
Such pressures were identified as "national security threats" in the public "National Security Report for 2006" issued then NSC secretary general Chiou I-jen under the former DPP government.
However, concerned almost exclusively with its secretive work to promote "reconciliation" with the PRC, the NSC has yet to either discuss its national security priorities with the Taiwan public or to pay significant attention to such "non-traditional" but no less substantial security concerns.
Only this week, after experiencing the worst typhoon and flood in 50 years and mis-managing the response to this crisis, has Ma's NSC decided to add a specialist in energy economics and climatic change.
Indeed, the Ma government and its national security team are now on the verge of repeating their crisis mis-management in confronting the spread of A(H1N1) swine influenza infections in Taiwan.
Four years ago, former DPP president Chen Shui-bian convened four expanded NSC meetings to coordinate cross-ministerial measures and cooperation with the World Health Organization in the successful campaign to block the importation of avian influenza in the summer and fall of 2005. However, Ma, likely under the advice of his national security advisor, has refrained from holding even one expanded national security council meeting on the A(H1N1) threat.
And this threat has already gone far beyond the bounds of prevention. Taiwan has already experienced five deaths, over 100 cluster infections and over 40,000 persons infected by Tuesday and concern among the public is growing over whether sufficient amounts of a promised vaccine and other anti-flu drugs will be available when the virus is expected to spread rapidly in the fall.
All Taiwan society should take seriously the warning issued by former health minister Chen Chien-jen, who played a major role in the campaign to control the SARS epidemic in early 2003, that up to 7,000 persons could perish if the infection rate in Taiwan approaches the WHO's global forecast that one third of the world's population.
Taiwan needs a national security team which will place prime attention to upgrading our capability to cope with the full range of threats to our security from disaster prevention and response to global climatic change and defense against the continued threat to our democratic independence from the PRC and which respects the demand of our citizens for transparency and democratic accountability. In other words, it's time for Ma to appoint a new NSC secretary-general.

Updated : 2021-02-26 21:19 GMT+08:00