Taiwan Finds Improper Use of ‘War Mode’ in Missile Misfire

  • Firing accidental, not intended to provoke China, report says
  • Weapon killed Taiwanese fishing boat captain, injured crew

Tsai Ing-wen speaks in response to the fatal anti-ship missile launch.

Photographer: Handout via EPA

A Taiwan Defense Ministry investigation found that several missteps and procedural violations led to the navy’s fatal missile launch Friday, determining the incident wasn’t intended to provoke China.

Mistakes aboard the Jin-Jiang class patrol craft included the use of “war mode” on a weapons control panel rather than a training setting, according to the ministry’s report, which was submitted Monday to a parliamentary committee. The weapons operator was left unsupervised before firing the anti-ship missile, which struck a Taiwanese fishing boat and killed one person.

QuickTake Taiwan's Tightrope

“The incident was caused by a series of discipline violations and mistakes,” said the report, the findings of which were first reported by Bloomberg News on Monday. “It wasn’t just one individual operating mistake.”

The launch came as the Communist Party was celebrating its 95th anniversary on mainland China, which remains military rivals with the self-ruled island. The incident represents an early test for Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, whose refusal to accept Beijing’s bottom line for continued negotiations has seen formal communication channels severed since her inauguration in May.

In a speech Friday, President Xi Jinping issued a warning to Taiwan while reaffirming his commitment to peaceful reunification between the former civil war foes. "We resolutely oppose splittist forces of ‘Taiwan independence,’” Xi said. “The entire Chinese nation, 1.3 billion Chinese people will not allow any activity in any form at any time to split the country," he said.

‘Responsible Explanation’

The Chinese government’s top negotiator for Taiwanese affairs, Zhang Zhijun, on Friday called the launch a serious matter and demanded a "responsible explanation," according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Taiwanese Vice Admiral Mei Chia-shu had earlier described the incident as an isolated case caused by human error.

The Taiwan report said the firing had had “no impact” on regional security. The island’s defense forces have observed “no abnormal” military activity in the Taiwan Strait. In a separate report to lawmakers, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council described China’s response as “low key” and “self-restrained.”

The Hsiung Feng III missile penetrated the fishing boat but didn’t explode. It killed the Taiwanese captain and injured three crew members, including Philippine and Vietnamese nationals, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement. The projectile never crossed the median line between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, the ministry said.

Tsai expressed her condolences to the family of the captain and apologized to those injured, the Foreign Ministry said. “The government takes full responsibility and all related agencies will assist the families in seeking compensation," it quoted her as saying.

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