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Archive for the ‘Lone Island of Taiwan’ Category

Taiwan defense officials meet after crash kills top officer

January 03, 2020

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen convened a meeting of top defense officials and urged them Friday to be on a lookout for military developments concerning China following a helicopter crash that killed the island’s top military officer and other prominent personnel.

In a tweet, Tsai said the morning conference focused on ensuring military morale, security in and around the Taiwan Strait and the importance of “complete equipment inspections.” The meeting followed the grounding for inspection of Taiwan’s 52 UH-60M Black Hawk choppers belonging to the air force, the army and the National Airborne Service Corps., the agency responsible for search and rescue operations.

Thursday morning’s crash in forested mountains outside the capital Taipei killed eight people, including chief of the general staff Gen. Shen Yi-ming. A former pilot and air force chief, Shen had since July been largely responsible for overseeing the self-governing island’s defense against China.

“The best way for us to honor the memory of the fallen is to ensure Taiwan’s security and maintain military morale,” Tsai wrote. In a video handout from the Presidential Office, Tsai is shown asking officials including the defense minister to “please be vigilant and pay close attention to military developments around the Taiwan Strait.”

“We need to respond quickly to any military deployments to ensure security across the strait,” Tsai said. Others killed in the crash included both pilots, the deputy head of the Political Warfare Bureau and the deputy chief of the General Staff for Intelligence, while two lieutenant generals and a major general were among the five survivors.

Tsai and her two rivals in the Jan. 11 presidential election suspended their campaigns to observe a period of mourning. The crash, which is under investigation, is not expected to affect the holding of the election, which Tsai is highly favored to win, but will require an urgent reshuffling of top military staff. Questions have also been raised as to why so many high-ranking officers were aboard a single flight.

China threatens to use military force if necessary to annex what it considers part of its territory. A vacuum within Taiwan’s military leadership could embolden it to step up its military intimidation.

Shen’s death comes as Taiwan’s military is undergoing a substantial upgrade with the arrival of the most advanced version of the U.S. F-16V fighter jets, along with tanks, missiles and improved military software.

Local media reported that rescuers were able to swiftly arrive at the scene because Chen Ying-chu, a correspondent with the Military News Agency who was on board and survived, sent a series of messages to a chat group reporting the crash and giving the chopper’s location.

Copter crash kills Taiwan’s top military officer, 7 others

January 02, 2020

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s top military official was among eight people killed in an air force helicopter crash in mountainous terrain outside Taipei on Thursday, the defense ministry said. Five others survived.

As chief of the general staff, Gen. Shen Yi-ming was responsible for overseeing the self-governing island’s defense against China, which threatens to use military force if necessary to annex what it considers part of its territory.

The helicopter was flying from Taipei to the nearby city of Yilan for a New Year’s activity when it crashed. The victims included other senior military officials and the two pilots. The UH-60M Blackhawk with 13 people on board dropped from the radar screen 10 minutes after takeoff from Songshan air force base around 7:50 a.m., Taiwan’s defense ministry said. It went down in the mountainous, heavily forested Wulai area southeast of the capital.

Shen, 63, had taken over as chief of the general staff in July after serving as commander of Taiwan’s air force, which is undergoing a substantial upgrade with the arrival of the most advanced version of the U.S. F-16V fighter.

Alexander Huang, a strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan who had known Shen for a decade, said he had stood out as a pilot and an officer. “He was very calm and very stable and unlike other army guys he was always smiling, so he got a specific leadership style that also made him a popular leader in the entire military,” Huang said.

It will likely be months before the cause of the crash is known, but the pilots appeared to have been highly experienced. “Of course, reasonable people would think in the direction of mechanical failure or maintenance problem, but without proof you can’t say anything,” Huang said.

A special government committee will look into the cause of the crash, a defense ministry statement said. Taiwan’s military has operated Blackhawk helicopters for decades and completed a sale for another 60 UH-Ms from the U.S. for $3.1 billion in 2010. The one that crashed was a model dedicated to search and rescue and had been delivered in 2018, according to the ministry.

The loss of Shen and other high-ranking officials will require a rapid reshuffle of positions, but should have minimal effect on Taiwan’s Jan. 11 elections for president and lawmakers, said Andrew Yang, a former deputy defense minister who said Shen was highly respected throughout his career.

“I don’t think the crash will have a strong impact over the elections but certainly it will affect the armed forces because so many senior officers passed away as a result of this crash,” he said. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party said in a statement on social media that all its public campaign events from now through Saturday would be canceled.

“The loss of pillars of our country make us feel endless sorrow,” the statement read. The party has been strongly critical of China’s attempts to increase economic, military and diplomatic pressure. Incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen appears on track to win a second term over her more pro-China opponent, Han Kuo-yu of the main opposition Nationalists.

Taiwan’s Tsai defends Anti-Infiltration Law aimed at China

January 01, 2020

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China has been relentless in its attempts to influence and infiltrate Taiwan’s politics and society but the island’s new ban on political interference should have no effect on normal exchanges between the sides, Taiwan’s president said in her New Year’s address.

The Anti-Subversion Law that obtained a third and final approval in Taiwan’s legislature Wednesday aims to prevent illegal campaign contributions, staging of political events, the spread of misinformation and other acts by foreigners that could affect Taiwan’s elections or the work of government. It was denounced by the opposition and by China’s Cabinet as overly broad and an attack of exchanges between the sides, but President Tsai Ing-wen defended it as having no effect on normal interactions.

The law’s passage “won’t have any effect on freedom or violate human rights and won’t influence normal commercial exchanges. It will simply provide greater guarantees from Taiwan’s freedom and democracy,” Tsai said.

Given China’s similar actions in other countries, Taiwan’s failure to prevent interference could give the impression it is untroubled by Beijing’s actions, Tsai said. “Under Chinese pressure and with the constant Chinese infiltration and interference, we really needed this law to make Taiwan a safer place and to prevent social divisions arising from infiltration and interference,” she said.

Tsai cited the continuing protests in Hong Kong as proof its governing framework, which Beijing proposes for Taiwan, is untenable. “China’s goal is very clear and that is to compel Taiwan to make concessions on the question of sovereignty under duress,” Tsai said. “Yet in Hong Kong, where ‘one country, two systems’ is in effect, the situation has just gotten worse and worse. Democracy and authoritarianism … cannot co-exist in the same country.”

Tsai said Taiwan would emphasize in the coming year that China’s policies cause instability in the Taiwan Strait, and that Taiwan would not exchange sovereignty for short-term economic gains. China has repeatedly offered benefits to Taiwanese who choose to work and study on the mainland and hundreds of thousands are believed to have taken advantage of the lower costs and greater opportunities in the Chinese market.

That poses the prospect of a “brain drain” of talented Taiwanese to the advantage of China’s economy while furthering Beijing’s goal of breaking down resistance to the possibility of future political unification between the sides. Recent surveys show around 80 percent of Taiwanese reject the idea of political union with China, with most backing the island’s current status of de facto independence.

Tsai is favored to win a second term during elections for president and the legislature on Jan. 11. China cut contacts with Tsai’s government shortly after her 2016 election and her potential reelection raises the possibility Beijing will intensify its campaign of economic, military and diplomatic pressure over her refusal to agree to Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is a piece of Chinese territory that must be reclaimed. China threatens to use force to annex the island if peaceful means fail.

In Beijing, the head of the Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Liu Jieyi, warned of “serious damage” to Taiwanese interests if the island’s government did not fall in line with China’s demands. “The bright prospect for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations needs the joint efforts by compatriots on both sides across the Strait and needs Taiwan compatriots to correctly grasp (the situation),” Liu said in a statement issued by his office.

While Liu restated China’s contention that unification between the sides is inevitable, he did not reiterate Beijing’s threat to bring that about by force. In his new year’s eve address, president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping also avoided repeating his previous references to the military option, possibly in hopes of not further alienating voters from the China-friendly opposition parties.

Taiwan braces for pro-China fake news deluge as elections loom

By Amber Wang

Taipei (AFP)

June 27, 2019

With a presidential election looming Taiwan is bracing for a deluge of fake news and disinformation — much of it emanating from China and aimed at making sure Beijing’s preferred party wins the day, analysts say.

Torrential rain did little to put off tens of thousands of people rallying in Taipei last Sunday against what they have dubbed the “red media”.

The term is used to describe both legitimate news outlets and more opaque online sources that flood the democratic island with either pro-China coverage or outright disinformation.

“I don’t want to see ‘red forces’ invading Taiwan to control the media and manipulate what people think, to fool the public,” Alan Chang, a 30-year-old businessman attending the rally, told AFP.

Taiwan goes to the polls in January and the contest is set to be dominated by relations with China.

The island has been a self-ruled de facto nation in charge of its own affairs and borders for the last 70 years.

But Beijing maintains Taiwan is part of its territory and has never given up its threat to retake it, by force if necessary.

It has stopped communication with the government of President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking a second term, because she refuses to acknowledge the island is part of “one China”, while ramping up military drills and poaching Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic allies.

Tsai’s main challenger is the Kuomintang which favors much warmer ties with the Chinese mainland and is the party Beijing wants to see back in power.

– Fake rescue –

“The stakes for the 2020 elections are high, as they will determine Taiwan’s future direction,” J Michael Cole, a Taipei-based expert at the University of Nottingham’s Taiwan Studies Programme, told AFP, adding fake news was already at “alarming levels”.

“So (Beijing) will intensify its influence operations — including fake news — to increase the odds that someone other than Tsai is elected,” he added.

One particularly egregious example that sparked criticism of the government was a widely shared, but patently false, report that China rescued Taiwanese tourists stranded in a Japanese airport during a typhoon.

Last week Tsai’s office also asked police to investigate false claims on social media that her government had given US$32 million to finance huge anti-government rallies in Hong Kong.

Hu Yuan-hui, head of the Fact Checking Centre in Taipei, said the viral nature of disinformation is aided by many Taiwanese people using Chinese social media and messaging services.

“They (fake reports) tend to highlight the contrast between Taiwan and China to try to portray a chaotic Taiwan versus a strong China,” he told AFP.

Last November, Tsai’s party was hammered in local elections, largely due to a backlash over domestic reforms and a divisive push for gay marriage equality.

But analysts said there was also a surge in fake news items ahead of those polls.

– Media literacy –

A study by Wang Tai-li, a journalism professor at National Taiwan University, found 54 percent of people surveyed were unable to distinguish the fabricated report about Chinese evacuating people during the typhoon, which went viral ahead of the November vote.

“Disinformation campaigns were proven effective last year and they will be replicated in larger scale during the upcoming presidential election,” Wang predicted.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the false typhoon evacuation story originated on the Chinese mainland and was picked up by Taiwan’s social and traditional media, in a “carefully coordinated and extremely effective disinformation campaign”.

“Beijing has been targeting Taiwan with disinformation campaigns for decades… However, it is only recently that social networks have enabled these activities to have a viral impact,” RSF said.

US officials have also said Taiwan is “on the frontlines” of China’s disinformation campaigns.

“There is no question, at least in our minds, that China will try to meddle, they’ve done it in every previous election,” Randall Schriver, US assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said last week.

Source: Sino Daily.

Link: http://www.sinodaily.com/reports/Taiwan_braces_for_pro-China_fake_news_deluge_as_elections_loom_999.html.

Taiwan’s military trains for a Chinese invasion on the beach

May 30, 2019

FANGSHAN, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwanese tanks and soldiers have fired at simulated Chinese forces in an anti-invasion drill on the island’s coast. The live-fire drill on Thursday at a beach in southern Taiwan is part of an ongoing annual exercise designed to showcase the military’s capabilities and resolve to repel an attack from across the Taiwan Strait.

China claims the self-governing island as its territory. Taiwan split from China amid a civil war in 1949. The simulated response to a Chinese landing included assault helicopters, fighter jets and missiles launched at targets in the sea.

The Defense Ministry said the joint army-navy-air force operation tested the island’s combat readiness in the face of the Chinese military threat.

President Tsai says Taiwanese want to maintain self-rule

January 01, 2019

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwanese treasure their autonomy from China, the leader of the self-governing island said Tuesday, warning city and county officials to be open about and exercise caution in any dialogue with the Chinese.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s remarks come after major gains by a Beijing-friendly opposition party in local elections in late November. “The election results absolutely don’t mean Taiwan’s basic public opinion wants us to give up our self-rule,” she said in an 11-minute New Year’s address at the presidential office. “And they absolutely don’t mean that the Taiwanese people want us to give ground on our autonomy.”

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost to Mao Zedong’s Communists. The Nationalists rebased their government to Taiwan, but China insists that the two sides must eventually unite, by force if necessary.

The Nationalist Party, which in recent years has favored closer ties with Beijing, won 15 of 22 major seats in the local elections, reversing an advantage held by Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party. Tsai takes a more guarded view toward relations with China.

“What’s really needed between the two sides is a practical understanding of the differences between values, beliefs and lifestyles,” she said. China resents Tsai for declining to recognize its condition for dialogue: that each side sees itself as part of one China. Beijing has sent military aircraft near the island, squeezed Taiwan’s foreign diplomacy and scaled back Taiwan-bound group tourism.

A New Year’s statement from the Chinese official in charge of Taiwan affairs accused Tsai’s party of obstruction and deliberate provocation. “The broad masses of Taiwan compatriots are strongly dissatisfied with the hostility caused by the DPP authorities across the Taiwan Strait,” Liu Jieyi, the director of the Taiwan Affairs Office, said, referring to Tsai’s party by its acronym.

“To achieve the complete reunification of the motherland and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is the common aspiration of all Chinese people,” he said in a message published in an official magazine.

Experts say that China will likely offer economic incentives to Taiwanese cities and counties where officials take pro-Beijing views. Tsai warned officials against any reliance on “vague political preconditions” or “forced submission of secret passwords,” a reference to giving away secrets.

“We don’t oppose normal cross-strait exchanges, and even more we don’t oppose city-to-city exchanges,” she said. “However, exchanges across the strait need to be healthy and they need to be normal.” Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to give a speech Wednesday aimed at Taiwan on the 40th anniversary of the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan,” a pro-unification statement from China that called for steps to end the isolation between the two rivals.

Tsai would probably condemn any local official talking privately with Xi, said Shane Lee, political scientist at Chang Jung Christian University in Taiwan. “She thinks that’s not only immoral but even illegal, because foreign affairs are the power of the central government, not the local government,” Lee said.

Lo Chih-cheng, who heads the international department of the Democratic Progressive Party, said Tsai cannot do more with China, because Beijing would credit any progress to the Nationalists. She will do nothing radical to provoke China, but some voters are looking for more action, he said in an early December interview. “People enjoy the status quo, but it’s not enough to win the elections,” Lo said.

Tsai also announced that her government was introducing a three-year plan to attract Taiwanese investors home from China, where some face import tariffs raised by Washington in the U.S.-China trade dispute.

She said that Taiwan wants China to share data on an outbreak of African swine fever. Taiwanese officials are on alert against any infection on their island, which lies 160 kilometers (100 miles) across the Taiwan Strait.

Associated Press researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this story.

Taiwan ruling party suffers major defeat in local elections

November 25, 2018

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s ruling party was handed a major defeat in local elections Saturday that were seen as a referendum on the administration of the island’s independence-leaning president amid growing economic and political pressure from China.

Soon after the results came in, President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as head of the Democratic Progressive Party. She will remain as president and her resignation will have no direct effect on the business of government, although the results bode ill for her re-election chances in two years.

Rival China said the results reflected a desire of Taiwanese for better relations with the mainland. Ma Xiaoguang, the spokesman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said his government will continue to treat Taiwan as part of China and “resolutely oppose separatist elements advocating ‘Taiwan independence’ and their activities,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.

In another victory for China, voters rejected a proposal to change the name of its Olympic team to Taiwan from the current Chinese Taipei. They also approved a referendum opposing same-sex marriage in a setback to LGBT couples, though ballot initiatives in Taiwan are non-binding.

The DPP lost the mayoral election to the Nationalist party in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, where it had held power for 20 years. The Nationalists also defeated the DPP in the central city of Taichung, home to much of Taiwan’s light industry, while Ko Wen-je, the independent mayor of Taipei, the capital, narrowly won a second term. The Nationalist candidate in Taipei has asked for a recount.

At a brief news conference at DPP headquarters late Saturday, Tsai announced she was stepping down as DPP chair and said she had refused Premier William Lai’s resignation, saying she wanted him to continue her reform agenda.

“Today, democracy taught us a lesson,” Tsai said. “We must study and accept the higher expectations of the people.” The elections for mayors and thousands of local posts were seen as a key test for Tsai’s 2-year-old administration, which has been under relentless attack from Beijing over her refusal to endorse its claim that Taiwan is a part of China.

Tsai and the DPP won a landslide victory in 2016, but China swiftly responded by cutting all links with her government. Beijing has been ratcheting up pressure on the island it claims as its own territory by poaching its diplomatic partners and barring its representatives from international gatherings, while staging threatening military exercises and limiting the numbers of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan.

The Nationalists, known also as the KMT, had campaigned on their pro-business image and more accommodating line toward Beijing. Since her election, Tsai has walked a fine line on relations with China, maintaining Taiwan’s de facto independent status that the vast majority of Taiwanese support, while avoiding calls from the more radical elements of her party for moves to declare formal separation from the mainland.

Taiwanese officials had warned that Beijing was seeking to sway voters through the spread of disinformation online similar to how Russia was accused of interfering in U.S. elections. Although domestic concerns were in the foreground, China played a major factor in voter sentiment, analysts said.

“I think part of the reason for the vote on Saturday was concern about relations between Taiwan and mainland China,” said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “Their relations have slid backward.”

Saturday’s results also throw Tsai’s political future into question. While the DPP still controls the national legislature, local politicians are crucial in mobilizing support among grass-roots supporters.

“I’m afraid it will be a big challenge for her in 2020,” said Gratiana Jung, senior political researcher with the Yuanta-Polaris Research Institute think tank in Taipei. Economic growth, employment and pension reforms were among key issues in the elections, which drew high turnout from the island’s 19 million voters. Government employees who feel slighted by pension cuts that took effect in July probably mobilized against Tsai’s party, Jung said.

Nationalist Party Chairman Wu Den-yih told reporters Saturday that his party would keep trying to avoid diplomatic friction with China and ensure smooth two-way trade. “We hope the two sides will soon go back to a peaceful and stable trend in relations,” he said.

Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists rebased their government to Taiwan in 1949 amid the civil war with Mao Zedong’s Communists. They ruled under martial law until the late 1980s, when the native Taiwanese population began to take political office, mostly through the DPP.

The vote against changing the name used in international sporting events to Taiwan was seen as a test of support for independence. It was symbolic in nature, as the International Olympic Committee had ruled out a name change, which would be opposed by China.

Though referendums are only advisory, the vote in favor of restricting marriage to male-female couples will likely put lawmakers in a difficult position. They face both a court order to make same-sex marriage legal by 2019 and elections in 2020.

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