Taiwan halts election campaign after top military general dies in mystery chopper crash

There were 13 people on board the Black Hawk helicopter, that crash-landed on the mountains.

Taiwan's top military general Shen Yi-ming died in a helicopter crash on Monday along with seven colleagues. The helicopter carrying the general and others crashed in a mountainous region near the capital Taipei, Taiwan's defence ministry said.

The Black Hawk helicopter, bought from the US, crash-landed after encountering an unspecified glitch. Other than that, the reasons for the crash were not revealed yet, Reuters reported, citing military officials. There were 13 people on board the chopper. Taiwan has seen a number of accidents involving Black Hawk helicopters in recent times. A Black Hawk crash off the east coast had killed six people in 2018.

Black Hawk helicopter
Black Hawk helicopter Pixabay

President Tsai Ing-wen launches probe

President Tsai Ing-wen said she has told the defence minister to launch an enquiry into the incident. "We must find out the reason for the incident ... Most importantly, (we) must ensure the stability of our military and national defence," she said.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reported, citing a political risk analyst in Taipei, that the accident did not appear weather-related. "The weather in northern Taiwan is quite good today, so at least initially it doesn't appear to be weather related; it may be mechanical related," Ross Feingold told the channel.

The analyst added that the accident involving senior leadership "will be part of political discussion as Taiwan gears up for elections set for January 11." The President's office said she cancelled all campaign activities for three days. Han Kuo-yu, the presidential candidate from the opposition Kuomintang party, also canalled all campaign events until Friday.

Taiwan is holding presidential and parliamentary elections on January 11 amid concerns over China's covert attempts to influence the election. China raised its stake in the ongoing conflict in November saying the island's reunification with the mainland is a primary need. China's defence minister Wei Fenghe said the "Taiwan question" is Beijing's "greatest national interest."

Taiwan navy, air force to train in South China Sea due to growing threat from China
Sailors stand on board Taiwan's newest domestically-produced missile frigate as manufacturer China Shipbulding Crop hands the ship over to the military in Kaohsiung March 11, 2004. Reuters (Representational Image)

National security and defence in focus

China considers self-ruling Taiwan as a renegade province and hasn't abandoned the possibility of using force to annex the island. The power balance tilted in Beijing's favour back in the early 1970s when the United States recognized the People's Republic of China and started diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Taiwan president-elect Tsai Ing-wen
Democratic Progessive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen chants slogans during a rally outside the Presidential Office in Taipei August 30, 2008 Reuters

National security and defence have been a prominent theme in this election campaign so far. The analyst told al Jazeera that the rest of the campaign will focus on the accident, with the president buttressing her support for the defence forces in the wake of the Chinese threat, while the opposition would lambast the administration over the lapses that led to the accident.