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Unconsciously Careless, the Honor Student FailedLooking at Corona Reinfection in Taiwan
2021年6月8日
May 26, 2021, Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan: Military disinfections in public areas and transportations across Taipei and New Taipei have beefed up, following an increasing number of domestic Covid-19 cases. Taiwan Center for Disease Control on Wednesday reported 304 new domestic cases, 331 adjusted cases, and 11 deaths while facing inadequate vaccines supply in the face of the ongoing community transmission. (Credit Image: © Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMA Wire)
May 26, 2021, Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan: Military disinfections in public areas and transportations across Taipei and New Taipei have beefed up, following an increasing number of domestic Covid-19 cases. Taiwan Center for Disease Control on Wednesday reported 304 new domestic cases, 331 adjusted cases, and 11 deaths while facing inadequate vaccines supply in the face of the ongoing community transmission. (Credit Image: © Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMA Wire)

1. Failure of an honor student

With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan had been praised as a successful case (honor student) for the prevention of epidemics because there were almost no infections in the country. However, a community-acquired infection has been spreading since its outbreak last month. Having been unconsciously careless, an honor student failed the examination.

As of May 29, according to the Central Epidemic Command Center of the Taiwanese government, 7,806 people have been infected (Among them, 6,620 people have been infected in Taiwan, while others have been infected overseas and entered Taiwan) and 99 have died. [1]Moreover, New Taipei City and Taipei City have seen the highest number of infections, with 3,118 in New Taipei and 2,503 in Taipei.

2. Background of failure and challenge of “local communities”

(1) Background

Community-acquired infections started with those of pilots from a major airline, China Airline, which occurred one after another from late April. Pilots who had returned from overseas assignment were infected, and then the employees of the hotel used for quarantine (quarantine accommodation) “Novotel Taipei Taoyuan International Airport” were infected. On May 10, the Central Epidemic Command Center announced that all China Airline pilots would be quarantined for 14 days, even though 10% of air cargo capacity would be affected. On the following day (May 11), the Center raised the alert level to the second level, with the highest being four, and set the alert period until June 8. [2]Subsequently, on May 18, following the further deterioration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the alert level was raised to the third level and the alert period extended until June 14.

Taipei and New Taipei are now called “hotspots” because they are the two most infected cities in the country. In Taipei, infections are reported to be concentrated in Wanhua District, and in New Taipei in Banqiao District, respectively. [3]As of May 29, the highest number of infections in Taipei was 990 in Wanhua District, which was 6 times as many as 163 in the second highest Wenshan District. Banqiao District, which has the highest number of infections in New Taipei, with 703, was followed by Zhonghe District with 466. At present, the infection situation in Wanhua and Banqiao Districts is the most worrisome. [4]

(2) Challenge

The “site of infection” was a major challenge in dealing with COVID-19 this time. Bars spread the infection even further because infected pilots went to “hostess bars.” However, it was difficult to track contacted people because bar staff were reluctant to admit the association with customers.

It’s not just bars. The above-mentioned “Wanhua District” in New Taipei City has become a more problematic area, so that it is misunderstood as the “epicenter” of this community-acquired infection. This is because Wanhua has a long history of being an “adult entertainment business” concentration area and there are many shops associated with gangsters. Infected sex workers tended to be reluctant to explain their background, lines of behavior, and business targets when questioned. As a result, it appears that this has hampered the investigation on the routes of infection and infection clusters related to Wanhua have not yet been resolved. In response, some media even used the expression, “Wanhua virus.” [5]This led to protests from the residents of Wanhua for discrimination.

In fact, no less than 300 people are reported to be missing among infected people in New Taipei and Taipei. The breakdown is not clear, but it is probably related to the fact that people were in a place where they could not speak frankly.

3. Local government response

For the opposition parties, the latest community-acquired infection should be a good source of criticism against the ruling party. In fact, in the face of archenemy COVID-19, major local governments have basically taken joint action with the central government (specifically, the Central Epidemic Command Center) to prevent epidemics.

For example, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (Leader of the People’s Party), a doctor for several decades, has rarely criticized the Central Epidemic Command Center’s policies severely. In the wake of the spread of this community-acquired infection, he has only pointed out that the central government does not have enough vaccines. Hou You-yi (belonging to Nationalist Party), Mayor of New Taipei City, which is the most populous and adjacent to the capital, is also basically in step with the central government, although having proposed tougher measures to the Central Epidemic Command Center in euphemistic expressions. Mayor Lu Shiow-yen (belonging to Nationalist Party) of Taichung City, the second most populous, also seems to support the central government’s measures against COVID-19. [6]However, as I will explain later, Nantou County and Kinmen County appear to be closer to the Chinese government than to the Tsai Ing-wen government in their position on measures against COVID-19.

4. Reaction of the international community

As mentioned at the beginning, since Taiwan was regarded as an “honor student in dealing with COVID-19,” with its continued control of the number of infections and deaths at low levels, its failure has caused concerns and disappointments in the international community.

For example, the BBC called the Taiwan success story just “A tale of complacency: Taiwan.” [7]If things went a little better, it was reported that Taiwan’s low vaccination rate of 1% should be considered as a “lesson” for other countries. [8]

By the way, the reason for this spread of community-acquired infections is the low vaccination rate. In fact, as of May 21, Taiwan’s vaccination rate was only 1.2%, which was lower than that of the Philippines (3%), Japan (6.3%), South Korea (10.3%), India (13.6%) and China (32.4%). This is why the opposition parties are criticizing the Tsai Ing-wen government. In addition to the surprises overseas seen in the international media, some countries sent encouragement to Taiwan, which has become an “orphan in the world of health.”

On May 7, for example, U.S. Secretary of State A. Blinken issued a statement saying that there was no reason to exclude Taiwan from the WHA (World Health Assembly). [9]The joint statement of the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting included the language “We support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in World Health Organization forums and the World Health Assembly.” [10]In the case of Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato commented at a press conference on May 11, “We should not create a geographical vacuum in our response to international health issues, and Japan has consistently supported Taiwan’s observer status.” [11]In addition, the Japanese government is reportedly now considering providing vaccines to Taiwan. [12]

On May 25, the U.S., Japanese, and Australian Representative organizations in Taiwan issued a joint press release expressing support for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the work of the WHO and its observer participation in the WHA. Pointing out that Taiwan’s participation “will benefit our people and the world,” they appealed, “Now is the time to bring Taiwan into the fold.” [13]

5. Foreign enemy: China’s false goodwill and cruel isolation of Taiwan

China has tried to isolate Taiwan. COVID-19 is no exception. Since the outbreak and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic globally, Taiwan’s measures against COVID-19 have worked well, and the success story of Taiwanese citizens living in the same way as usual has become well known internationally, which must have won considerable sympathy from the international community. Nevertheless, Taiwan has yet to escape the world of health and welfare under China’s influence. This year, Taiwan’s participation in the WHA (in a video format), even as an observer, is impossible. Needless to say, this is China’s doing.

On May 10, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular press conference, “There is only one China in the world. Taiwan district’s participation in the activities of international organizations, including the WHO, must be dealt with in accordance with the One China Principle. This is a fundamental principle confirmed in the UN Resolution 2758 and the related resolutions of the WHO,” adding, “The Chinese government has made appropriate arrangements for Taiwan district to engage in public health work for the world” “No country cares more about the health and welfare of Taiwanese people than China” (沒有誰比我們更加關心台灣同胞的健康福祉) and “Taiwan cannot participate in the WHA due to the DPP government.” [14]In response, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ou Jiang-an accused China of having harmed the health of Taiwanese citizens and of openly lying in an attempt to mislead the international community. She refuted China’s claims, saying they were totally against facts and the international community’s recognition. [15]

On May 17, when the Tsai Ing-wen government announced that the entire nation would be under COVID-19 Alert Level 3 from the next day because the spread of community-acquired infections in Taiwan had not been contained, the Chinese government again took a soft stand. In a press conference on May 18, Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson with the Taiwan Affairs Office of State Council, stated that “We’re ready to provide vaccines to Taiwanese compatriots” and “We want to help Taiwanese compatriots to overcome COVID-19.” [16]In response, the Taiwanese government’s Mainland Affairs Council pushed back by issuing a statement saying, “The opposite side of the Strait [China] does not need to show false good intentions,” “We can obtain reliable vaccines from the international community if [the Chinese side] does not obstruct” and “If China really has human welfare in mind, it should not fly its military planes around Taiwan in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.” [17]

6. Hard and soft measures “mutually cancelling one another”

What the Mainland Affairs Council says seems to be right on the mark. It is precisely because of China’s obstruction that Taiwan cannot join international organizations. Moreover, Taiwan became unable to obtain the BNT COVID-19 vaccine (developed jointly by Pfizer Inc. of the United States and BioNTech SE of Germany) because of interference by China’s Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical (Group) Co., Ltd., which holds the distribution right of the BNT COVID-19 vaccine in Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. Furthermore, the threat and sense of crisis, posed to Taiwanese society by PLA’s military flights around Taiwan, has made the “good faith” of China not believable. As I have just discussed in my article “Both Hard and Soft Measures Together? Or Hard and Soft Measures Mutually Cancelling One Another?” (published on March 13), [18]China has believed that both hard and soft measures for Taiwan are effective, but in reality, hard measures are eroding soft ones, and as long as the former exist, the latter have no policy impact.

7. Internal concerns: Movement of opposition parties

Besides the vaccine offensive across the Taiwan Strait, there are also forces within Taiwan that obstruct COVID-19 quarantine operations. In addition, such forces are close to the Chinese side in their position, and their related moves seem to be coordinated with the Chinese side.

On May 11, Ting Shou-chung (who tried to run for Mayor of Taipei from the Nationalist Party, but failed in the primary) said that he would like to receive the Chinese vaccine. According to the National Security Bureau of Taiwan, the Chinese government ordered the PLA Cyber Unit, the Ministry of State Security, and the Taiwan Affairs Office to launch cognitive warfare against Taiwan around May 12 to 13. [19]Although it cannot be confirmed whether the remarks made by Ting Shou-chung on May 11 are related to China, it is true that China took action after Ting’s remarks. On May 15, “China Review Service” in China reported that China could provide Taiwan with vaccines. On May 18, Yang Cheng-wu, Mayor of Kinmen County, called on the central government to allow Kinmen County to procure vaccines from China that were internationally recognized as safe. [20]Hong Xiuzhu, former Chairperson of the Nationalist Party, said on May 22 that she wanted to negotiate with China to buy the vaccine. [21]On May 24, furthermore, Wu Cheng-dian, Chairman of the New Party, said that he was told by the Chinese side that if he contacted the Chinese side, China would provide 100,000 doses of Chinese vaccines to the Kinmen County people. [22]On the same day (May 24), Nantou County Mayor Lin Ming-chen said that the Taiwan Affairs Office of Zhejiang Province, China, had indicated (to him) its intention to cooperate with vaccine purchases. [23]In response, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council announced that “The Shanghai Health and Medical Development Foundation and the Jiangsu Cross-Strait Cultural Exchange Promotion Association have said that they would like to donate vaccines to Taiwanese compatriots, which we will support and actively cooperate with.” [24]On May 27, Jiang,Qi-chen, the leader of the Nationalist Party, wrote on his Facebook page that “The government should use the power of the private sector to expand the routes [for purchasing vaccines]” and “The government should make good use of well-meaning help.”

Looking at the above in chronological order, it seems as if the statements made by these politicians and the announcements by the Chinese government of its position are responding to each other. These people appear to make their statements as if following the pattern of China’s maneuvering against Taiwan to “negotiate with local governments whose head belongs to the Nationalist Party, while bypassing the central government led by the Democratic Progressive Party.”

That could drive a wedge between central and local areas in Taiwan, which the Chinese government wishes to see. It would also give “points” to these people. Now, it is a top priority for the opposition parties to earn political points. On the other hand, local elections are scheduled for next year (2022), while a local referendum called by the opposition parties (to ask whether the DPP government’s policy of importing U.S. pigs using Ractopamine is appropriate) to be held in August of this year. On the other hand, the approval rating of the DPP government remains at a relatively high level. Therefore, the opposition parties must be eager to take advantage of the spread of infections within the country to attack the DPP government by all means. In fact, to criticize the Tsai Ing-wen government, the National Party has prepared a 15-point “Fighting Manual” (教戦守則), and the Party publicly acknowledges its existence. [25]

8. A challenge called cognitive warfare

At present, the Taiwanese government is facing a major challenge. It is cognitive warfare. Cognitive warfare is a method of forming specific cognition, recognition, and emotion on a specific object through information manipulation. In order to carry out this warfare, it is necessary to transmit disinformation, which is regarded as a kind of public opinion war or information war.

Several cases of cognitive warfare have been identified since the outbreak of the community-acquired infection crisis. For example, when the army is sent to help disinfect towns, there is information “Disinfectants used by the army are highly toxic” and therefore, “Everyone, let’s close the windows at night,” creating a panic among citizens. [26]

In addition, when it was announced that the alert level of the Central Epidemic Command Center was to be raised (May 15), a news report appeared on the Internet saying that “Chen Shih-chung, the commander of the Central Epidemic Command Center, actually tried to raise the alert level as early as May 11, but delayed it to 15th at the request of the President of the Executive Yuan,” as if there was an internal conflict within the government. [27]

Responding to such a series of false information incidents, Taiwan’s Executive Yuan spokesperson Lo Ping-cheng warned that based on information provided by national security agencies, China “has launched cognitive warfare against Taiwan to disrupt our society” taking advantage of the spread of COVID-19 crisis. [28]Deputy Secretary-General Lee Chun-yi of Presidential Office (equivalent to Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary), also warned of China’s cognition warfare, citing four objectives: (1) “causing inconsistency within Taiwan”; (2) “delaying improvement in the COVID-19 pandemic”; (3) “delaying production”; and (4) “disturbing the stock market and other economic activities.” [29]

9. Conclusion

In today’s world, it is extremely difficult for the government to respond effectively to the “invisible enemy” of the coronavirus. In the case of Taiwan, in addition to the virus, the government should also deal with challenges from opposition parties. The Tsai Ing-wen government is indeed facing multiple challenges.

The experience of Taiwan in dealing with COVID-19 has been widely reported until just recently, and to a certain extent has served as a reference for the international community. Taiwan has not overcome the crisis yet. In the future, I strongly hope that Taiwan’s experience of struggle will benefit countries that have faced China’s vaccine diplomacy.


[1] <29日增320本土、166校正回歸 21死創新高[影](On the 29th, 320 new infections in Taiwan, 166 corrections for infected cases, 21 deaths set a new record)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 29, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/firstnews/202105290028.aspx?topic=2012

[2] <疫情升二級警戒!陳時中:進入社區感染 6月8日前停辦室外逾500人集會(The epidemic has been upgraded to second level alert! Chen Shih-chung: Entering the community and ending outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people before June 8)> <<United Daily News>>, May 11, 2021, https://udn.com/news/story/120940/5449273

[3] <北市單月1170人確診 萬華659例成感染熱區(1,170 people diagnosed in Taipei City in a single month, with 659 cases in Wanhua, which is a infection hotspot)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 25, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/firstnews/202105250300.aspx

[4] <新北疫情持續燒!確診人數破3千 板橋、中和、三重前3名(New Taipei epidemic continues to rise! The number of confirmed cases exceeds 3,000, with the top 3 of Banqiao, Zhonghe, and Sanchong>, <<Liberty Times>>, May 19, 2021, https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/life/breakingnews/3550761

[5] <新冠肺炎》「萬華病毒」歧視標題引起網友公憤!三立電視道歉了(New title of COVID Pneumonia “Wanhua Virus” aroused public outrage from netizens as discriminatory! Sanlih E-Television apologized)>, <<The Storm Media>>, May 26, 2021, https://www.storm.mg/lifestyle/3704991

[6] <中央宣布延長三級警戒 盧秀燕:非常認同(Central government announced the extension of the third-level alert, Lu Shiow-yen: Agree very much)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 25, 2021,  https://www.cna.com.tw/news/aloc/202105250294.aspx; <縣市自購疫苗?盧秀燕表態挺中央統一配發 但盼時程加快 (Counties and cities buy vaccines? Lu Shiow-yen expresses support for the central government’s unified allotment, but hopes that the schedule will speed up)>, <<Liberty Times>>, May 25, 2021, https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/politics/breakingnews/3545802

[7] “Covid-19: What went wrong in Singapore and Taiwan?’ BBC, May 20, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-57153195

[8] <怕跟台灣一樣疫情大爆發?澳洲維多利亞省四度封城 (Afraid of an outbreak like Taiwan? Victoria, Australia, closes the state for the fourth time)>, <<United Daily News>>, May 27, 2021, https://udn.com/news/story/121707/5490063

[9] <支持台灣參與WHA 美國務卿:沒有排除理由(U.S. Secretary of State supports Taiwan’s participation in WHA: No reason to exclude)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 8, 2021,  https://www.cna.com.tw/news/firstnews/202105080004.aspx

[10] <G7外長會議公報 兩次提及台灣 (G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting Communiqué mentions Taiwan twice)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 6, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/firstnews/202105060030.aspx; G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting, May 2021: communiqué, https://www.g7uk.org/g7-foreign-and-development-ministers-meeting-may-2021-communique/

[11] <台湾のWHO総会参加支持 加藤官房長官(Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato in Support of Taiwan’s Participation in WHO General Assembly)>, <<JIJI Press>>, May 11, 2021, https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2021051100635&g=pol

[12] <台湾にワクチン提供、自民部会が要請 政府検討へ アストラゼネカ製(LDP Division requests provision of vaccines to Taiwan, Government to consider those made by AstraZeneca)>, <<NIKKEI Shimbun>>, May 28, 2021, https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXZQOUA280PI0Y1A520C2000000/

[13] <美日澳駐台辦事處齊聲呼籲 讓台有意義參與世衛 (U.S., Japan, and Australia offices in Taiwan unanimously call for Taiwan to participate meaningfully in WHO)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 25, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/aipl/202105250121.aspx

[14] <華春瑩:中國同意下 世衛3次向台灣通報疫情(Hua Chunying: With the consent of China, WHO notified Taiwan of the epidemic three times)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 10, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/acn/202105100241.aspx

[15] <中國稱安排台參與全球衛生事務 外交部:悖離事實(China claims to arrange Taiwan’s participation in WHO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: No basis in facts)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 11, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/aipl/202105110107.aspx

[16] <國台辦:願助戰勝疫情 讓台灣民眾有疫苗用(Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council: Willing to help overcome the epidemic so that Taiwanese people have vaccines)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 17, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/acn/202105170353.aspx; <大陸疫苗入台? 國台辦:當務之急是去除人為政治障礙 (Mainland vaccine enters Taiwan? Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council: The top priority is to remove man-made political obstacles)>, <<United Daily News>>, May 17, 2021, https://udn.com/news/story/7331/5465025?from=udn-referralnews_ch2artbottom

[17] <國台辦願幫台胞戰勝疫情 陸委會:對岸不必假好心(Taiwan Affairs Office of State Council willing to help Taiwan compatriots defeat the epidemic, Mainland Affairs Council: Opposite side of the Strait need not show false good intentions)>, <<United Daily News>>, May 17, 2021, https://udn.com/news/story/7331/5465242; <陸委會:陸方停止阻撓台灣獲防疫資源 才是善意(MAC: As good will, the mainland should stop obstructing Taiwan’s access to epidemic prevention resources)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 26, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/acn/202105260337.aspx

[18] <硬軟両様か硬軟相殺か:台湾パイナップル禁輸事件を考える(Both Hard and Soft Measures Together? Or Hard and Soft Measures Mutually Cancelling One Another? –Examining the Taiwanese Pineapple Import Ban)>, Global Research Institute on Chinese Issues, March 13, 2021, https://grici.or.jp/1952

[19] <北京啟動新認知戰 企圖瓦解台灣防疫 (Beijing launches new cognition war in an attempt to disrupt Taiwan’s epidemic prevention)>, <<Liberty Times>>, May 19, 2021, https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/politics/paper/1449613

[20] <金門縣長籲開放中國疫苗 侯友宜:盼中央支持 (Kinmen County Mayor calls for the acceptance of Chinese vaccines, Hou You-yi: Hopes for the support of the central government)>, <<Liberty Times>>, May 19, 2021, https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/life/breakingnews/3537171

[21] <洪秀柱發聲:願出面爭取中國疫苗 (Hong Xiuzhu speaks: Willing to negotiate for China’s vaccines)>, <<Newtalk>>, May 22, 2021, https://newtalk.tw/news/view/2021-05-22/577426

[22] <金門縣槓中央 新黨:中國願提供金門10萬劑免費疫苗 (Kinmen County requests the central government, New Party: China is willing to provide 100,000 doses of free vaccines to Kinmen)>, <<Newtalk>>, May 24, 2021, https://newtalk.tw/news/view/2021-05-24/578339

[23] <林明溱欲買中國疫苗 網友:「南投人會打嗎?」(Lin Ming-chen wants to buy Chinese vaccines. Netizens: “Will the Nantou people accept?”)>, <<Liberty Times>>, May 25, 2021, https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/life/breakingnews/3545618

[24] <陸願捐贈何種疫苗?國台辦:會考慮台灣意願(What kind of vaccine does Mainland want to donate? Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council: Will consider Taiwan’s wishes)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 26, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/acn/202105260090.aspx

[25] <傳聞有疫苗教戰守則 國民黨:政府與各政黨都在蒐集輿論意見 (Rumor of a vaccine fighting manual, National Party: Government and various political parties are collecting public opinions)>, <<Liberty Times>>, May 27, 2021, https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/politics/breakingnews/3547992

[26] <網傳化學兵消毒劑很毒 總統:假訊息不轉傳 (Internet spreads rumors that soldiers’ chemical disinfectant is very poisonous, President: False information should not be relayed)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 14, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/aipl/202105140364.aspx

[27] Tang Xiaotian, <幕後》雙北升級三級警戒 蘇貞昌決策關鍵18小時曝光(Behind the scenes>> Taipei and New Taipei upgrade to third alert level, Su Tseng-chang’s key decision making on crucial 18 hours exposure)>, <<The Storm Media>>, May 15, 2021, https://www.storm.mg/article/3679851.

[28] <政院:中國藉疫情對台發動認知作戰 積極查辦(Executive Yuan: China uses the epidemic to launch cognitive warfare against Taiwan, Actively investigating to deal with it)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 19, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/firstnews/202105190202.aspx

[29] <李俊俋:中國啟動對台認知作戰 國安單位揭四大企圖(Lee Chun-yi: China launches cognition warfare against Taiwan, national security units reveal four major attempts)>, <<Central News Agency>>, May 19, 2021, https://www.cna.com.tw/news/aipl/202105190209.aspx

助理研究員 / 国防安全研究院非伝統的安全および軍事任務研究所