Sat, Nov 15, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: China's espionage threat

The most serious espionage case in years was cracked this week. Tseng Chao-wen (曾昭文), 58, a retired military intelligence officer, is alleged to have gathered classified information for China through former colleague Chen Sui-chiung (陳穗瓊), 55, a staffer in the defense ministry's Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB). This security threat was erased when the pair were arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of spying.

But this was not China's only espionage network here. Spies have been planted throughout the country, gathering information and endangering the national security. This should come as no surprise. The problem is how to deal with it.

Not long ago, National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Kang Ning-hsiang (康寧祥) told the legislature that the biggest threat to the national security is the large number of gaps that exist in coastal surveillance, and not the 600 Chinese ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. Kang's opinion is defensible, but the greatest threat that China poses has nothing to do with the coastline.

The greatest threat comes through various legal and illegal channels. China has exported diseases, drugs and weapons to Taiwan. At the same time, certain local media, politicians and activist groups are promoting unification in the name of patriotism. The public should be very concerned about these activities.

The Bureau of Investigation also estimates that there are over 3,000 Chinese agents here. These agents gather intelligence on Taiwan's political and economic structures and personnel, science parks and other strategically important locations, defense installations in particular.

China has also sent Taiwanese people back here to carry out tasks aimed at achieving unification. In particular, they have recently begun to recruit legislators and powerful business figures to participate in "advanced studies" in China. After being offered preferential treatment, these individuals come back as spokespeople for China and the Chinese nationalist agenda. The propagandist role they play is obvious, but the reaction of authorities is, more often than not, flaccid.

China has even begun to recruit retired government officials to further their business interests in China, as well as entice young Taiwanese to go to China as tourists or for study. This is compelling evidence of how the unificationist agenda is becoming more diverse and creative. In Taiwan we see no corresponding mechanisms to withstand this trend, and government agencies are not sufficiently integrated to develop and execute measures to address the threat. These gaps in the national security have to be filled.

It is imperative that the NSC, the agency in charge of our national security, the Bureau of Investigation and the MIB review each ministry and their organizational structure to this end. These agencies would also do well to take a good look at their own structures and practices and build up a national security net to protect the public from both the threat without and the emerging threat within.

China's espionage activities have been growing in sophistication and scope, and the response has been sluggish. But a late response is much better than no response at all.

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