In the early May, Taiwanese media reported that over 250 foreign advisors and engineers, who are participating in Taiwan’s Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) project considered that staying in Taiwan is safer than going home, because of Taiwan’s effective COVID-19 control protocols. According to the local media reports, the foreign advisors and engineers came from the United States, Europe, Japan and South Korea. South Korean media reports also claimed that that Korean engineers are participating in the submarine development project.
ROC – ROK past relations and interactions
The Republic of China (ROC or Taiwan) and Repulic of Korea (South Korea) had diplomatic relations from 1949 to 1992. Both ROC and ROK governments were anti-communism, and enjoyed a good relationship during the Cold War. ROC supported Korean independence movement since 1920s and was willing to send troops to help defending South Korea during the Korean War, however this was refused by the United States.
Although both countries had good political relations, there were not much open or official information about military interactions. The ROK Navy training squadron has visited Taiwan in 1972. A retired ROC army flag officer said that ROC military academy was training personnel from friendly countries in 1980s, including some South Korean personnel.
Another famous case is that the ROC once planned to purchase South Korean Ulsan-class frigates in 1980’s. But the plan was openly and fiercely opposed by navy leaders and society. Taiwan procured La Fayette-class frigates from France in the end.
South Korea terminated its diplomatic relation with Taiwan in 1992 and asked the ROC embassy personnel to leave within 24 hours and the ROC properties to be transferred to PRC (mainland China). To this day, these actions still make South Korea having a certain level of unpopularity in Taiwan.
Although there are only non-official relations between both sides since 1993, a document written by Korean Mission In Taipei for lecture in a Taiwanese university in 2014 showed that the officers of the mission include some military liaison officers.
Indigenous Defense Submarine (IDS) Project
In early July, Taiwanese media reported that the equipment for IDS project have all arrived Taiwan. The construction of the shipyard for building the submarine is completed and all of the equipment will be installed by September. Equipment test is expected to start this month (September 2020).
CSBC chairman ChengWen-Lon said that 4 companies have come to CSBC’s Keelung shipyard submarine park to establish their plants, two of them will build new plants. He also said that the first foreign company will start manufacturing parts for the IDS in July 2021.
The ROC Navy plans to start construction on the prototype submarine in November. The submarine is expected to be completed in the third half of 2024, and is planned to be delivered to navy for tests in 2025.
Possibility of Korean participation in IDS project
South Korea currently has an indigenous submarine program (the 3,000 tons KSS III submarine project), and have exported Korean-built submarines to Indonesia.
However, on an international relations aspect, South Korea needs to maintain good diplomatic relations with China because of the strong Chinese influence on North Korea related issues. Therefore it is hard to imagine that South Korean advisors or engineers could officially visit Taiwan to help the ROC Navy in designing the IDS.
That being said, there is still a possibility of Korean participation in some aspect of IDS such as project management, ship-building related technologies, logistic management/planning, personnel education and training. So far, it virtually impossible to legally know if such participation exists and its nature.