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Global Times

Taiwan incident might bring uncertainty to regional election

Global Times

By Yang Sheng and Liu Xuanzun Source:Global Times Published: 2020/1/2 22:58:40

Incident might bring uncertainty to regional election

The crash of a US-made Taiwan military helicopter on Thursday killed three senior officers including the "chief of the general staff" of the island's defense forces.

Chinese mainland experts said that the frequent accidents relate to the unreliability of US-made vehicles and the island should not play a cash machine feeding Taiwan people's money to US defense industry giants.

Due to the deadly crash happening nine days ahead of Taiwan's regional election, Chinese mainland observers opined that the investigation of the case might be used by politicians to serve their own interests at the election.

A Taiwan military Black Hawk helicopter carrying 13 people including three senior military officers crashed in a mountainous area in northern Taiwan on Thursday, killing eight including the island's "chief of the general staff" Shen Yi-ming.

Rescue personnel arrived at the crash site 1:30 pm and found five survivors of the severely damaged helicopter, a Taipei-based news website reported on Thursday.

Shen and seven other people have been confirmed dead.

Taiwan's defense authority confirmed that the Black Hawk lost contact with air control on Thursday morning and went down in the Wulai District of New Taipei City, Beijing-headquartered China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Thursday.

The US-made helicopter had 13 passengers including three senior military officers, a journalist and crew, according to a press conference held by Taiwan's defense authority on Thursday morning, CCTV reported.

This is not the first time Taiwan has encountered an accident involving Black Hawks. In February 2018, six people died in a crash and in March 2018, another Black Hawk had to land and run checks due to a system warning, mainland news website chinanews.com reported.

Taiwan's military spent about 85 billion new Taiwan dollars ($2.83 billion) in 2008 to purchase the 60 Black Hawk helicopters from the US to replace its outdated UH-1H helicopters, a Taiwan's news website reported, noting the helicopters just became fully combat ready in October 2019.

The cause of the Thursday accident has yet to be determined, Taiwan media said.

Mainland military experts said Thursday that three factors could have resulted in a crash: bad weather, mechanical failure or pilot error.

Taiwan's meteorological authority said the weather was fine in the region, according to Taiwan media reports.

Mainland air defense expert Fu Qianshao told the Global Times on Thursday that the helicopter crashed in a mountainous area, a more demanding terrain for flying an aircraft.

The weather should be checked before the flight, and the helicopter should reroute in the first place if it was dangerous, according to Fu.

In terms of the possibility of mechanical failure, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times that the Black Hawk itself is supposed to be a reliable helicopter used by many militaries in the world and is very adaptive and can operate on challenging terrains including plateaus, seas and deserts, making it highly rated by its users.

There have been multiple malfunction reports from Taiwan since the Taiwan military began to use it, and small problems have kept occurring, Song said, noting that this showed Taiwan's military was having trouble with the helicopter's technical maintenance.

The Black Hawk deal between the island of Taiwan and the US was poor business for Taiwan because the US asked for a much higher-than-average price and the configuration of the helicopters may also not be the most capable version, Song said.

Taiwan lacks experience calibrating and maintaining the Black Hawk, and US maintenance would cost even more money, Song said.

Fu said that no matter how reliable the Black Hawk, if regular maintenance is not well conducted, it will malfunction.

The pilot who conducted such an important mission was supposed to be experienced and skilled, Fu said, noting that he should be able to deal with special conditions and prevent accidents.

Any of these three possibilities could indicate serious problems in the Taiwan military's capability, experts said.

Election impact

Tsai Ing-wen, the leader of the island as well as the Democratic Progressive Party candidate in the upcoming 2020 election, would stop the election campaign for three days, according to the statement released by Tsai's election office.

Han Kuo-yu, the candidate of the KMT, also announced a stop for two days, Han's election office said in a statement.

In the history of Taiwan elections, strange incidents always take place when the election day nears, and politicians will use them to manipulate public opinions and attack their rivals, and in some cases, these incidents will deeply impact the election situation and the result, said Li Xiaobing, an expert on Taiwan from Nankai University in Tianjin.

For instance there was a shooting incident in 2004 which greatly helped then DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian to defeat his KMT rivals, Li noted.

This is a chance for the DPP candidate Tsai to use her power and public resources to show society that she cares about the military, Li said.

"In fact, the military in the island has already been isolated by the politicians, and their interests are seriously impacted," Li said. "But now Tsai could use this incident as an opportunity to please the military and their families."

Chinese mainland analysts noted the incident was too close to the election day and so investigation of the case and other topics related to the case - such as arms sales between the island and the US - could be used by the politicians to affect the election result.

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