At a time of great uncertainty over Taiwan’s ability to purchase advanced combat aircraft from the US, one would expect Taipei to do its utmost to send the right signals to Washington, not only that it takes national defense seriously, but also that it would ensure that US technology does not end up in China’s hands.
Struggling to convince the electorate that it is committed to national defense, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration in recent years made no less than 21 appeals to Washington to agree to the sale of 66 F-16C/Ds. However, there is evidence that those sound bites aside, Taiwan’s efforts to secure the sale under Ma have been halfhearted at best. As a result, various reports have recently stated that the deal is all but dead and that Taiwan will have to make do with upgrades to its aging F-16A/Bs, which could include top-of-the-line radar technology.
Now recent developments are threatening even that. Enter Ko-suen “Bill” Moo (慕可舜), a former top sales representative for Lockheed Martin who was arrested in Florida in 2005 for attempting to sell, among other items, an F-16 engine to a region of China long known for its reverse-engineering of military technology. After doing time in a US federal prison, Moo was deported to Taiwan last week, where he promptly disappeared from radar screens.
However hard Taiwanese officials try to argue that Moo never broke any laws in this nation, the very presence in Taiwan of Lockheed Martin’s former top sales representative for radar and C4ISR systems for Taiwan, added to his deep contacts with the then-upper echelons of the air force, are enough to make one pause. Even more worrying is the fact that the authorities appear to be clueless as to his whereabouts.
Add to this the apparent lack of interest in the case by the local Chinese-language media, and the case hardly sends the right signals to a US administration that is growing increasingly concerned about the risks of the transfer of sensitive military technology to China via Taiwan. Taiwanese officials may not think the case is such a big deal, but for the US, it is — and we all know who gets to decide which weapons Taiwan will be able to acquire.
The inability of the ministries of national defense and justice, of border officials and legislators, to explain what has become of Moo creates the impression that Taiwanese officials are either utterly incompetent or that Moo, given his contacts, is somehow being protected. It is hard to tell which is worse.
If Taiwan cannot summon the courage to deal with an individual who has a demonstrated willingness to compromise not only the US’, but Taiwan’s, security by transferring advanced military technology to China, then Washington could be excused for concluding that Taipei is no longer a trustworthy ally. Granted, Moo’s infraction was committed in the US, but we must not forget that long before his arrest in Miami, there already were reservations about his trustworthiness, so much so that a senior Lockheed employee attempted to have him fired.
Moo is only one spoke in a network of individuals who over the years have engaged in espionage on behalf of China. Several are still behind bars for spying on the very systems Moo was working on at Lockheed. If Taiwan cannot get such a clear-cut case right, how can we expect it to handle all the spies and traitors who may be lurking in our midst? If Moo was willing to ship an entire aircraft engine, imagine how much easier it would be for someone like him, perhaps with the connivance of some corrupt officials, to ship a much smaller aircraft radar that fits in an aircraft nose cone across the Taiwan Strait.