According to reports from many media outlets, Jo Sung-gyu, deputy head of North Korea’s Tourism Bureau, led a delegation on a five-day visit to Taiwan to discuss with Taiwanese tourism industry representatives the possibility of setting up direct flights between Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and Pyongyang in North Korea during Korean festivals.
Surprisingly, Taiwan’s national security agencies were apparently unaware that officials from a controversial communist state were visiting Taiwan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to admit that Taiwan’s representative office in Singapore had not reported the visit to the ministry in a timely manner when issuing tourist visas to the delegation members. This situation makes it clear that communication channels between the government’s national security units are flawed, and that a thorough review and improvements are urgently needed.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the US, the international security environment changed drastically. This made it vital that diplomatic and national defense policies complement each other to safeguard national security.
Based on this “new world view,” the national security systems of some advanced countries have strengthened their intelligence information gathering and defense information analysis in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks and to counter other threats. They also set up complete crisis management mechanisms to enhance communication between different government units.
The main purpose of these measures is to prevent potential crises and to stop them if they do occur. This is the only way that a government can secure both public and national safety.
North Korea is a totalitarian state, and its nuclear threat remains one of the biggest variables currently affecting global security. Although the future development of the North Korean tourism industry is highly attractive to Taiwan, Jo, who has already visited Taiwan with his subordinates three times, remains a high-ranking North Korean official.
Although the visits were of a non-official character and aimed at generating business, the ministry should have been proactive and should have immediately obtained the schedule for his Taiwanese visits and informed national security units that they should pay close attention to the visits.
This would have been the correct way of handling the situation and it would have dispelled any public doubts.
Earlier this month, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) failed to identify a photograph of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Chairman Jia Qinglin (賈慶林), who is responsible for China’s Taiwan affairs. Subsequently, Taiwan’s representative office in Singapore failed to report Jo’s visit in a timely manner. Not long ago, the Ministry of National Defense was unaware of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) plan for an East China Sea peace initiative (東海和平倡議), and its rash punishment of Rear Admiral Chang Feng-chiang (張鳳強), former commander of the navy’s 168th Fleet, was also strongly criticized across the board.
All these cases demonstrate that serious loopholes exist in Taiwan’s intelligence reporting and communication mechanisms.
If these warning signs are not given the attention they deserve, then there is serious cause for concern over the state of Taiwan’s national security.
Yao Chung-yuan is a strategy consultant to the Association for Managing Defense and Strategies.
Translated by Eddy Chang