Ongoing talks with Google Inc are being carried out to handle Google Earth imagery potentially leaking military secrets, the Ministry of National Defense said yesterday.
Four three-pronged structures were visible on the northwestern coast of Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) after the imagery was updated in July, but the ministry and the Coast Guard Administration have not commented on their nature.
Previous Google Earth images showed that the structures were not there in January last year.
The coast guard, which is in charge of Itu Aba, said that all structures and facilities on the island are classified and their functions could not be made known.
Satellite images on Google Earth show four structures on a claw-shaped base, with two of the four above the tideline, while all four structures have a dome-shaped object atop them.
A source said that as a new harbor on Itu Aba was completed at the end of last year, it was possible that the ministry supervised construction of the structures and forbade coast guard personnel from entering the area.
The structures are much larger than artillery bases that have been removed from the island, the source said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) took photographs of the structures during a visit to the island in July, which showed they stood at least two stories high and were evidently not a giant surf break.
Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi (陳中吉) yesterday said that the facilities were classified and the ministry would not comment on the issue.
Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) said that while facilities and their functions on Itu Aba are classified, the public should rest assured that the island has strong defenses.
Coast Guard Director-General Lee Chung-wei (李仲威) said that details about the facility were classified and the administration had notified Google of the issue after KMT Legislator Alicia Wang (王育敏) asked Premier Lin Chuan (林全) whether the imagery on Google Earth could be used to discern what functions the facility had.
Netizens criticized the ministry and the coast guard’s reluctance to speak on the issue and said there are hundreds of satellites that could evidently see the structures, while others claiming to be “military experts” said the structures resembled anti-air gun turrets.
In other developments, the ministry denied reports that the Yun Feng missile program, a mid-range cruise missile developed by the state-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, had been terminated by the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
The “Cloud Peak” missile program was said to be capable of hitting Beijing and Shanghai, with a range of more than 1,000km.
When asked whether the Tsai administration would terminate weapon systems capable of cross-strait strikes, Chen said that the ministry would outline its plans in January next year after it finalizes its strategic planning.