TAIPEI--Suspicion is growing that Taiwan was used as a conduit for exporting products from Japan that can be used to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The suspicion surfaced after a corruption case involving the customs office in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, came to light early this month.
Because Taiwan does not belong to the United Nations, concern is growing that it is serving as a loophole in the international system that aims to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
On June 5, the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office arrested seven officials of the Kaohsiung Customs office on suspicion of approving companies’ declarations based on forged documents in exchange for money.
Investigations into the incident found that products such as vacuum pumps and ball bearings have been exported to Taiwan from Japan. The prosecutors office checked documents from this year and found seven or eight similar cases.
According to the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, large-sized, high-standard vacuum pumps and precision ball bearings are subject to export restrictions because the pumps could be used in uranium enrichment and the ball bearings could be used to develop missiles.
Those products are believed to have been brought into Taiwan from Japan under different names, such as “air blowers,” but because none of the items has been confiscated, prosecutors are having difficulty confirming whether they are really products subject to the Japanese export restrictions.
However, Lu Hsing-ling, an official at the prosecutors office, implied that they likely are subject to the restrictions, asking, “Why would it be necessary to make false declarations?”
The prosecutors office is seeking related documents from the Japanese government to clarify the facts of the incident.
It is unknown where the products from Japan have since gone, but prosecutors think they may have been exported to third countries from Taiwan. Taiwanese authorities prohibit exports of those products to North Korea and Iran.
The corruption scandal originally started in relation to the smuggling of agricultural and fishery products. In April, prosecutors arrested three officials of the customs office and six employees of the companies said to have offered bribes.
It is believed that the corruption has continued since around 2003 at the latest, fueling suspicions that other customs office officials and company employees have been involved in bribery.
Taiwanese authorities are working to strengthen laws and other regulations in line with the international nonproliferation rules.
However, Chen Shih-min, an assistant professor of political science at the National Taiwan University who is well versed in nonproliferation issues, said Taiwan cannot closely cooperate with U.N. member countries because it does not belong to the international body.
“As economic exchanges with China are increasing, it has become impossible to keep watch on all of the flows (of imports and exports),” Chen said.
In May, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested members of a Taiwanese family on suspicion of exporting machine tools needed for weapons development to North Korea. They purchased the machine tools from U.S. companies under the name of a Taiwanese company and sent them to North Korea through Taiwan.
Takehiko Yamamoto, professor of political science at Waseda University, said that when he served on the expert panel of the U.N. sanctions committee on North Korea from 2010 to 2011, the panel was unable to sufficiently discuss the issues of Taiwan due to resistance from China.
“The problem results from the ambiguity of Taiwan’s status,” Yamamoto said.
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