Security Concerns Cause Taiwan to Ditch Chinese Ships

By MarEx 2014-09-25 09:10:00

A Taiwanese company has withdrawn notice to use Chinese vessels on a renewable energy project off the island, the port authority said on Thursday, after opposition lawmakers cited security concerns about the joint operation.

The last-minute decision to drop the vessels underscores the island's concerns about possible surveillance by Beijing, and comes a day after the Taiwan government said it was making security checks on a Chinese smartphone company.

The "Huadian 1001", a Chinese platform vessel, and a towing vessel, departed China's Nantong in Jiangsu Province earlier this month for Taichung port, after getting the all-clear from Taiwan's Maritime and Port Bureau to ply Taiwan waters.

The Chinese-registered vessels had been contracted to work on Taiwan's first offshore wind project. Two Chinese companies, China Huadian Engineering Co Ltd and Jiangsu-based Blue Water Windmill Engineering Co Ltd, were awarded contracts.

However, opposition lawmakers this week raised concerns at committee hearing into the project that the Chinese vessels could carry out surveillance and gather sensitive information about Taiwan's coastline and oceanography.

"How can you safely allow this Chinese ship to enter Taiwan?" Kuan Bi-Ling, an opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator, asked the committee hearing.

Wednesday's hearing included senior officials from Taiwan's defense, national security, transportation and maritime, science and technology, economics and interior ministries, in addition to the island's Mainland Affairs Council, which overseas cross-straits matters.

Hsu Kuo-ching, secretary-general of the port bureau, said on Thursday the Taiwanese contractor CBSC Corporation Taiwan, through one of its subcontractors for the project, had advised authorities that it would rescind an application to use the Chinese vessel.

An official from Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs involved with the wind project said that other options, such as using a ship and crew from another country, were now being considered.

Despite years of economic detente between Taiwan and China since China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, deep mistrust still exists between the island and the mainland.

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of a civil war with the Communists. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its control.

The Ministry of Interior in a report to lawmakers said it would also null the entry certificates of 37 Chinese technicians who were due to take part in the project.

The Chinese vessel and technicians had been contracted to assist in constructing and installing an ocean meteorological observation tower and other seabed structures in the first phase of the project.

On Wednesday, Taiwan's National Communications Commission said it was investigating whether Xiaomi Inc,China's leading smartphone company by domestic shipments, was a cyber security threat.

It said independent tests were being made on Xiaomi phones after reports in recent months that some models automatically sent user data back to the firm's servers in mainland China.

Privately owned Xiaomi has faced several allegations of security leaks in recent months. In August, the company publicly apologized and said it would change a default cloud feature after a Finnish security company found proof that Xiaomi collected address book data without permission.

By J.R. Wu (C) Reuters 2014.