THE statement by Taiwan that it accidentally shelled the mainland is almost as disturbing as the incident itself. According to Beijing, a dozen shells hit a suburb of Xiamen, injuring four people. Taipei's description of this incident as a 'non-hostile, mistake shooting' raises more questions than it answers. Many people, and not just the Chinese authorities, will want to know why the Taiwan military was firing live shells towards the mainland. If such an exercise was justified in military terms, then Taipei should explain what safeguards were in place to prevent such an accident and why those safeguards apparently failed. The explanation by Taipei's Defence Ministry that the shelling 'could have been caused by unexploded powder falling to the ground' sounds disingenuous. More explanation is needed: the results of the investigation being conducted by the Central Military Command must be made public. Asia has more than its share of volatile areas, but the Taiwan Strait is among the most dangerous. Fortunately, tensions between China and Taiwan have eased in recent years, and no shells have been fired in anger since 1979. Taipei's speedy apology and offer of compensation is indicative of the improvement in relations, and of the growing maturity of the Taiwanese Government. Only a few years ago, Taipei's approach to Beijing was expressed in terms of pointless insults. The rivalry these days could hardly be described as friendly, but Taipei is at least focused on, and goal-oriented towards, the mainland. Priority is given to establishing effective relations with other countries that facilitate business and other links. Less attention is paid to matters of 'face'.