Taiwan's defence minister likely to stay despite missile incident

This handout photo taken and released by Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) on July 1, 2016 shows a damaged fishing boat at a harbour in southern Tainan.
PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI - Taiwanese defence minister unlikely to be replaced over the missile misfire.

Taiwan's defence minister Feng Shih-kuan is unlikely to be replaced over the missile misfire despite some lawmakers' demands he resign to take responsibility, the Central News Agency cited high-ranking officials as saying Saturday.

The country's national security authorities have made preliminary determinations that the defence minister should not take the blame and step down, as the responsibility should be assumed by the military's command officers, rather than its administration, the CNA cited unnamed "core" officials as saying.

The sources said Feng has been in office for only more than a month, and there is no need to replace him at present, which would dampen the new government's authority and image.

But President Tsai Ing-wen will decide what responsibility Feng should bear now that she has returned to Taiwan from her overseas official trip, said the sources.

Premier Lin Chuan called a meeting Saturday morning with the ministers of the Ministry of National Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Mainland Affairs Council to get the latest updates regarding the missile incident, the CNA said.

Feng was absent from the meeting, as he was at the time visiting the family of the fishing boat captain who was killed by the misfired missile from a Navy vessel anchored at its Kaohsiung base Friday. Deputy Defence Minister Lee Hsi-ming attended the meeting instead.

The Navy has already meted out disciplinary actions against some personnel held responsible for the incident. The highest-level officer punished so far is Adm. Huang Shu-kuang.

Some lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties have demanded the defence minister step down over the incident, which China has described as a serious matter for which it has demanded a "responsible" explanation by Taipei.

The unnamed "core" officials told CNA that the missile did not cross the central line diving the Taiwan Strait, and the incident did not heighten tensions across the strait.

The sources cited intelligence collected by national security bodies as showing that the Chinese military did not overreact after the missile was launched, and there was no unusual deployment of troops in China.

The sources told the CNA that the misfiring was the result of poor training and management among lower-level troops, and that "improper" punishments of high-level officers could backfire.

The sources said some think Feng should not have made a public apology over the recent brutal killing of a dog by some soldiers.

The Ma administration had then defence minister Kao Hua-chu resign over the death of serviceman Hung Chung-chiu, who died in 2013 while in military detention.

The sources said that many in the military were angry that Kao had to take the blame, and that it could trigger similar responses among the Armed Forces if Feng were to lose his job over the missile incident.

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