Bus case another hot potato for President Tsai: The China Post

Taiwanese investigators conduct investigations after a tourist bus crashed and burned in Taoyuan, on July 19, 2016.
Taiwanese investigators conduct investigations after a tourist bus crashed and burned in Taoyuan, on July 19, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on Aug 1, the newspaper examines speculation that the driver's death was an act of self-immolation that left Chinese tourists as victims.

Bus driver Su Ming-chen was drunk when he steered a bus, carrying a tour guide and 24 visitors from Liaoning, China, into death, according to autopsy results released last Friday. All passengers were burned alive in a fire.

The autopsy revealed a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 1.075 mg/L. The legal BAC limit is 0.15 mg/L, and a reading of 0.25 mg/L is grounds for prosecution.

Taoyuan prosecutors found that Su was the son of a Taiwanese veteran, who was shanghaied to China by Chiang Kai-shek's army to suppress Mao Zedong's Communist rebellion in 1946. The kidnapped soldier surrendered to the Communist army, remained in mainland China, got married and fathered Su. He eventually returned home to Taiwan, leaving his son behind. Su grew up and joined his father in Taiwan in 1989.

Prosecutors found five bottles of gasoline, two under the driver's seat and three in the luggage compartment of the bus. But it remains undetermined whether drunk driving caused the bus fire. Prosecutors are considering the possibility that Su may have intentionally ignited the gasoline, though they have not ruled out an electric shortage as the cause.

In the meantime, it was revealed last week that Su had recently been sentenced to five years in prison for sexually assaulting a female tour guide. Moreover, he told fellow drivers a couple of days before the bus fire that he would do "something really big" to get even.

All this makes the incident appear to be an act of self-immolation that left the Chinese tourists as victims.

But for Su's unique personal background, the incident would be treated one in which he chose to commit suicide by burning himself to death while at work. He may even be considered a "China hater," who tried to vent his unrequited grudge against the mainland Chinese.

Online, tongues started to wag in China over the Su "self-immolation," and Hong Kong's Phoenix InfoNews Channel said President Tsai Ying-Wen should apologise for the death of the 24 Chinese visitors to Taiwan.

Xinhua, the official news agency of the People's Republic of China, published a commentary entitled, "An Outrageous Chauffeur Could Only Bring about Disaster," comparing Tsai to the bus driver who can never shirk responsibility for all offenses committed against China in the past two months.

The commentary suggests that Ms Tsai's actions since her inauguration on May 20 have posed a threat to the lives of Chinese in mainland China.

Chinese netizens commented that Tsai has no reason not to apologise for the deaths of the Chinese tourists and to offer her condolences to their bereaved families. Their anti-Taiwan sentiments have soared to a new high.

A spokesman for Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council said the Chinese side expressed serious concern to the Taiwan side and demanded that the cause of and responsibility for the incident be quickly ascertained.

This touchy situation represents another hot potato, added to the missile misfire, the crisis of Taiping Island made a "rock" as defined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the indefinite postponement of the Taiwan-Japan Marine Cooperation Dialogue meeting on Okinotori, and the increasingly serious labour-management confrontation.

The latest hot potato is the hardest one to handle. No matter how the cause and responsibility are explained, mainland China will never believe it. They are convinced that the Taiwanese are against them. This could make it hard to prevent a cooling of relations across the strait, to the detriment of the Taiwan economy, which has been in the doldrums for the past 16 years.

* The China Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.