A recent Taipei Times article (“Kao not worried about N Korean missile,” April 12, page 3), reported that in a discussion of Taiwan’s capability to intercept a North Korean missile, Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) said: “It [North Korea] does not pose a threat to us [Taiwan].”
Kao’s confident assertion of the military’s ability to intercept a stray missile is based on the perceived technological effectiveness on Taiwan’s long-range radar installation at Leshan (樂山), Hsinchu County.
The military’s success in detecting a North Korean rocket launch on Dec. 12 last year, a few minutes earlier than Japan’s discovery of the launch, is indeed impressive.
Given the recent shift in the regional military balance of power toward China, this success is timely and seems to bear out Kao’s assurances, made on a number of occasions since October 2010, that the NT$30 billion (US$1.01 billion) system would be able to track any missiles or rockets launched by Beijing.
However, one cannot help but wonder whether this was an opportunity missed. During his recent tour of Japan, South Korea and China, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated the US’ position on North Korea and confirmed its security commitments to Japan and South Korea.
However, Kerry made no reference to Taiwan, although he had previously done so during questions from the US Senate in early February.
Perhaps there was no reason for Kerry to mention Taiwan during his Asian tour? After all, is North Korea really a threat to Taiwan’s national security? Perhaps not directly, but in the event that Pyongyang followed up on its aggressive rhetoric and launched a missile aimed at, for example, the US territory of Guam, there exists the possibility that such a missile might go astray and accidentally strike Taiwan.
As there appears to be something of a regional consensus on the North’s provocative stance, Taiwan could potentially use this opportunity to attempt to extend its international influence by voicing its concerns over regional security.
This would be more likely to succeed if Taipei were to follow the examples of other regional protagonists by publicly demonstrating a stronger sense of vigilance and concern pro bono publico, rather than merely voicing confidence in its own early-warning system.
On Nov. 6, the Taipei Times quoted Lieutenant General Liu Shi-lay (劉溪烈), a retired defense ministry official, saying that information collected by Taiwan’s radar system would not be offered to the US.
However, perhaps now would be a good time to offer to share any data relating to North Korea not only with the US, but also with other parties in the region on condition that Taiwan’s status in regional discussions was enhanced.
This would also be an opportunity for Beijing to endorse a strategy complementing President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) recent comments, made during a one-hour videoconference with US academics on April 17, that improved cross-strait relations are consistent with US interests in the region and that rapprochement has helped to enhance peace across the Strait.
Niki Alsford is a research fellow at the University of London’s Centre of Taiwan Studies in the School of Oriental and African Studies.