Tue, Dec 23, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The Hong Kong media's rumor mill

Hong Kong has played the role of rumor mill in many of Taiwan's elections, sending out messages attacking pro-independence forces on behalf of China and indirectly campaigning for political parties and candidates favored by China. However, Chinese military exercises reported by the Hong Kong media in the run-up to the 1996 and 2000 elections did not result in the desirsed effect. Instead, they proved to be counterproductive. But now the Hong Kong media is up to the same old tricks.

Without quoting sources, the Ming Pao (明報) reported that China's national security agencies had exposed a massive Taiwanese spy network in mid-December and arrested 21 Taiwanese and 15 Chinese suspected of stealing information about China's ballistic missile deployments.

Taiwan's pan-blue camp immediately started dancing to this tune, saying President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had leaked state secrets by stating the exact number of missiles that China had deployed to threaten Taiwan, thereby exposing Taiwan's intelligence personnel to danger and resulting in their arrests.

The entire story is a ludicrous farce. One only needs a little common sense to see that it does not stack up. First, the number of missiles that Chen quoted is already on the record. The US frequently discloses information on China's missiles based on satellite data. The Web site of the US Federation of American Scientists (www.fas.org), for one, publishes information on Chinese missile deployments.

Missile launchers can be seen clearly in the satellite images. And each launcher is normally fitted with six missiles. Taiwan does not need to use spies to get missile information that is so readily accessible. Since the number of Chinese missiles is no secret, Chen has not exposed any cross-strait military intelligence. If anything, he may have revealed a Chinese military "secret." The pan-blue camp's accusations that Chen leaked state secrets are absurd.

Taiwan's Military Intelligence Bureau has said that the report about the arrests was sheer fabrication.

Arresting spies is a big thing in the world of espionage. Arrests are not carried out until after long-term observation and planning. Sometimes, keeping spies on a long leash and tracking down the spy network is a much more useful strategy. At other times, using known spy channels to feed misinformation to the enemy and cause them to misjudge the situation is an even better tactic. It is not very often that a massive spy network is brought into custody within a few weeks.

China has no strict definition of state secrets. While Chinese intelligence personnel could have arrested "spies" who had been collecting information, they were not necessarily engaging in espionage or working for Taiwanese intelligence agencies. It would be even harder to back up the claim that Chen's remarks led to the arrests.

Some Hong Kong media outlets frequently release news without quoting sources. There is a specific political purpose behind such news stories -- to sap the Taiwanese public's morale. In the past, Taiwan's stock market would slump and the public would become restless whenever such news came out. But the public has long since become immune to such scares. Even attempts by some politicians with ulterior motives to foment fear can only have a limited effect.

Past election results tell us that the pan-blue camp's attempt to hype a political topic through Hong Kong media reports is bound to fail. Not only will it not achieve the desired effect, but it may even trigger a backlash now that the pro-China leanings of the pan-blue camp have become more obvious.

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