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Taiwan’s deadly misfiring of supersonic missile jolts military rival China

July 2, 2016

Taiwan’s navy misfired a supersonic anti-ship missile Friday, killing the captain of a fishing boat, in the second anger-provoking incident in a week for Taiwan’s defenses and further irritating military rival China.

Personnel aboard a navy corvette fired a Hsiung Feng III missile around 8.15 a.m. local time into the Taiwan Strait from near the southern city of Kaohsiung. It flew north about 40 nautical miles north and hit a Taiwanese fishing boat 25 minutes later. The captain was killed, and two Southeast Asian crew members were injured.

The incident comes a week after three marines in Taiwan hanged a dog and videotaped its struggle at the end of a chain before throwing its body into the sea. The animal cruelty outraged thousands of netizens in Taiwan, prompting apologies from the marines involved and pledges from the military to prosecute them.

Friday’s missile misfire, which drew a public apology from the Ministry of National Defense, alarmed China at a time when relations are at their most strained in more than eight years. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan despite seven decades of self-rule on the island and has threatened to take it by force, if needed. Taiwan’s 300,000 active military personnel regard China as their chief rival, and most of their drills and tests are designed to resist an attack from Chinese.

Although the missile did not approach China, Beijing’s Taiwan policy chief, Zhang Zhijun, was quoted in Taiwanese media demanding an explanation for an incident he said would “severely affect” relations. China is 99 miles from Taiwan, across the strait at its narrowest point.

Military spokesmen called the missile incident a breach of standard operating procedures likely caused by human error. However, the navy acknowledged a simulated target was in the direction where the missile flew. The government’s China policymaking body said it had informed China of the launch.

“The government is dedicated to safeguarding peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits, and that hasn’t changed,” the agency said in a statement. “We believe in facing this kind of incident, it’s obviously important to have communication with China to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings and miscalculations.”

China will continue to fret but likely won’t retaliate, analysts in Taiwan say.

“Certainly China will be on alert and pay greater attention,” said Andrew Yang, secretary general with the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies think tank in Taiwan. But he said that given earlier tensions, it’s unlikely the two sides will establish a hotline to use in case of military accidents.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has irked China since she took office May 20 by not agreeing to China’s conditions for dialogue that had taken relations to all-time highs over the past eight years. Tsai disputes Beijing’s precondition that both sides belong to a single China. Last month, apparently in response, China said it had called off even informal exchanges with Taiwan.

Jennings is a special correspondent.

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