A Taiwanese vessel used in a drug smuggling operation was equipped with a Chinese navigation system to evade law enforcement, attorney Huang Hsin-ying (黃馨瑩), a Taiwan Statebuilding Party legislative candidate, said on Tuesday. The use of China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System threatened national security, Central News Agency (CNA) cited Huang as saying.
BeiDou, which is used by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is a two-way system. The more Taiwanese vessels that use it, the more tracking data China has access to — data that could bolster the positioning capabilities of the PLA in the event of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
Use of BeiDou in Taiwan would potentially expose classified locations, such as military sites, to the PLA, while Chinese spies could navigate with it without exposing their location to local authorities.
A CNBC report published on July 29 discussed the importance of the BeiDou system to China’s military. When China lost track of one of its missiles during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, apparently because it did not have access to GPS, Beijing decided it “needed to have [its] own system in order to be able to ensure continued coverage, the degree of accuracy that [it] wanted and to not be relying on another nation for something that was so vital for [its] military operations,” CNBC quoted then-US undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights Sarah Sewall as saying.
Use of BeiDou is illegal in Taiwan and the importation, use or sale of related equipment has been banned by the National Communications Commission (NCC) since 2018.
“According to Articles 65 and 66 of the Telecommunications Management Act (電信管理法), those who sell controlled telecommunications radio frequency devices such as BeiDou could face a fine of NT$10,000 to NT$200,000” (US1,540 to US$3,080), CNA cited NCC spokesman Wong Po-tsung (翁柏宗) as saying. Those who import and produce such devices without approval face a fine of NT$100,000 to NT$1 million, Wong said.
Law enforcement officials should have the means to track BeiDou signals within Taiwan’s borders. The coast guard and the military should also have the means to track and jam BeiDou signals.
There could also be research into means to compromise the BeiDou system.
There would likely be interest from several countries to cooperate on such efforts, given that Chinese military ambitions are a shared threat. They might include Japan and the US, as well as India, which has regular skirmishes with China along the two countries’ shared border.
The US has long been concerned about the vulnerability of GPS and some military analysts have warned that GPS satellites would be targeted during a conflict between China and the US or its allies.
China could simply disrupt GPS signals with its own satellites, or could piggyback on GPS with encrypted signals — turning the US’ own system against it.
These concerns might be part of the reasoning behind the 2019 formation of the US Space Force as a branch of the US military.
It might even be that GPS, which was developed in 1978 when the global geopolitical situation was different, cannot meet the needs of today’s geopolitical landscape. The time might be right to develop a new navigation system, which is an area that Taiwan and other countries could cooperate with the US to deliver on.
Whether targeting BeiDou, better protecting GPS or replacing GPS altogether, Taiwan could play a role. In the meantime, it should ensure that China’s navigation system does not become a threat to national security.
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