Air Security Should NOT Become a Political Football Post-September 11th.
As the leading experts on airport safety and security are gathered for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s 39th Triennial Assembly in Montreal (September 27 – October 7) (http://www.icao.int/Meetings/a39/Pages/default.aspx), representatives of one of the world’s leading air hubs — Taiwan — are noticeably absent. With the election at the beginning of 2016 of a new woman President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, whose Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is not particularly popular with China’s Communist Party leadership, Beijing has decided to play politics with the air safety of global travelers transiting the skies over the Western Pacific. While excluding Taiwan’s air safety professionals from the number one conference on international air regulations and air safety may give the mandarins in Beijing a reason to guffaw in their endless game of political one-upmanship, it appears a direct contradiction of ICAO’s stated goal of achieving a “seamless sky.” (http://taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xItem=248116&ctNode=2175)
It was the Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed in Chicago, Illinois on December 7, 1944 — ironically, on the third anniversary of the air attack on Pearl Harbor — that first established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The Convention stated that “the future development of international civil aviation can greatly help to create and preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world, yet its abuse can become a threat to the general security.” The Republic of China (Taiwan) was one of the founding members of ICAO, which became a United Nations Specialized Agency. (http://www.icao.int/publications/Pages/doc7300.aspx) So excluding Taiwan’s air safety representatives because of some political agenda would appear to be just the kind of abuse that the original documentation addressed. Further, Rule 5 of the Standing Rules of Procedure of the Assembly of ICAO stipulates that “non-Contracting States and international organizations duly invited by the Council, or by the Assembly itself, to attend a session of the Assembly may be represented as observers.” (http://www.icao.int/publications/Documents/7600_cons_en.pdf)
Taiwan is a key air hub in the Asia-Pacific region. In a September 22nd article in The Hill newspaper, Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO), Stanley Kao, explained the compelling reasons that Taiwan should have been included in the current ICAO Assembly. He noted that “Taiwan is responsible for the airspace known as Taipei Flight Information Region (Taipei FIR), which covers 180,000 square nautical miles and provides services for nearly 1.53 million controlled flights carrying 58 million travelers annually. This number is equal to 18% of the entire U.S. population. In 2015, Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport was ranked as the sixth largest globally in terms of international air freight traffic and 11th largest in terms of international passengers, according to the Airports Council International (ACI). Taiwan is connected to 135 cities around the globe via 301 scheduled passenger and freight routes.” Mr. Kao went on to note that “not having Taiwan in the coming ICAO Assembly, on the other hand, would be detrimental to the interests of all parties concerned. It would also not serve ICAO’s agenda of holding comprehensive discussions on safety, navigation services, security, environmental protection, and economic matters.” (http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/297111-taiwan-and-icao-this-is-the-time)
Two terrorist attacks on international airports have occurred since the beginning of 2016: the bombings at Brussels Airport on March 22nd, which, along with a bombing at a metro station in the city, left over 30 dead and approximately 180 injured (http://www.foxnews.com/world/2016/03/22/multiple-injuries-reported-after-explosions-at-brussels-aiport.html); and the June 28th attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, which reportedly left 45 dead and more than 230 injured. (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/07/01/europe/turkey-istanbul-ataturk-airport-attack/)
Such attacks can obviously occur at any airport in any city around the world; the victims can be from any nation as international air travelers are widely diverse. Not allowing Taipei FIR authorities to have sustained professional and constructive interactions with their counterparts not only is a detriment for the people of Taiwan but also for all of those air travelers who transit the Taiwan FIR. As Representative Kao pointed out: “Taiwan’s attendance will not only enable it to stay up-to-date with international safety regulations but also assist the Assembly in ensuring the safe, secure and sustainable development of international civil aviation.”
The U.S. Congress officially endorsed a role for Taiwan in the ICAO Assembly and it made a difference. Public Law No. 113-17, sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), was passed by the Congress and signed by President Barack Obama on July 12, 2013. It states that a meaningful participation by “the Government of Taiwan as an observer in the meetings and activities of ICAO will contribute both to the fulfillment of the ICAO’s overarching mission and to the success of a global strategy to address aviation security threats based on effective international cooperation.” (https://www.congress.gov/113/plaws/publ17/PLAW-113publ17.pdf)
Possibly partially due to the passage of this legislation, in September 2013, the Director General of Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) was invited for the first time by the President of the ICAO Council to attend the 38th ICAO Assembly in Montreal. She attended as a guest under the name of Chinese Taipei, after ICAO’s exclusion of Taiwan for 42 years. Taiwan’s participation was widely welcomed and deemed consistent with ICAO’s goals by most of its members. The ICAO Council President at the time, Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez of Mexico, told the press that he decided to invite Taiwan to the previous 38th Assembly in Montreal because of the suggestion of China. (http://www.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/foreign-affairs/2013/09/26/389817/ICAO-president.htm) Beijing then was in the midst of a charm offensive, trying to win over the hearts and minds of Taiwan’s people and seeking to cultivate the KMT Administration of former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.
In a September 21st article in Aviation Week, TECRO Representative Kao articulated some of the aviation-related difficulties encountered because of this four decades-long exclusion from ICAO: “Despite its location in the busiest section of airspace in East Asia, Taiwan’s CAA (Civil Aeronautics Administration) has had no direct access to ICAO for the past 40 years and has only indirectly gained information, in some cases incomplete, on ICAO regulations and standards related to safety, management, security and environmental protection. The CAA has had to resort to various informal channels to keep up with the development of ICAO’s regulations and standards and overcome the difficulties associated with a lack of transparency in order to maintain adequate safety levels and service standards in the Taipei FIR. The CAA has had to make an extra effort to keep abreast of constant updates to flight safety and security standards set by ICAO. Obtaining that information often has been a costly and drawn-out process.”
The Obama Administration reiterated its support for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in ICAO earlier this year. On February 11, 2016, Susan A. Thornton, U.S. State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, testified at a House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific hearing that the U.S. “remains just as committed to Taiwan’s meaningful participation in organizations like Interpol, ICAO, WHO, and UNFCC.” (http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA05/20160211/104457/HHRG-114-FA05-Wstate-ThorntonS-20160211.pdf)
But ICAO wasn’t listening this year. This may have something to do with appointment, in May 2015, of Dr. Fang Liu of China as the new Secretary General of ICAO, replacing Raymond Benjamin of France who had supported the 2013 extension of the ICAO invitation to Taiwan. (http://www.icao.int/Newsroom/Pages/Dr-Fang-Liu-of-China-becomes-first-ever-woman-appointed-Secretary-General-of-ICAO.aspx) Dr. Liu, naturally, will be expected to do Beijing’s bidding in the administration of ICAO during her three-year term, including the snubbing of Taiwan. This politicization of aviation safety is definitely a setback not only for Taiwan’s achievement of international space but also for all who care about secure air travel and safe airports. Aviation safety crosses national borders. Taiwan is an indispensable part of global aviation.