China’s execution on Friday of medical researcher Wo Weihan (伍維漢), 59, on charges of passing on “secrets” to a group affiliated with Taiwanese intelligence was a disgraceful act that warrants far more than the condemnation Beijing received from the US, the EU and a handful of rights organizations.
As Amnesty International and other critics pointed out, Wo’s confession that he discussed the health of a senior Chinese official and copied military data from unclassified magazines was made under duress. Even under Chinese law, however, Wo’s alleged offenses were so trivial and so unremarkable that the death penalty could not have been justified.
Apart from failing to modernize its antique definition of “state secrets,” Beijing also missed an opportunity to show Taiwan some of the “goodwill” President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been desperately seeking by sparing the life of an alleged Taiwanese intelligence asset. Nothing would have demonstrated that cross-strait relations had turned the page more dramatically than for Beijing to void a death sentence against a man who, if indeed guilty, stood as a symbol of the warring relationship of old, when spies, rather than envoys, defined the state of affairs between the rivals (Wo was arrested in Beijing in January 2005).
By failing to do so, China showed that cross-strait “peace” initiatives will not temper its pursuit of unforgiving objectives, destroying lives and families in the process.
The move did nothing to embellish Beijing’s reputation abroad, where hundreds of Chinese agents, students and businesspeople steal secrets — real secrets, as opposed to health information or articles from unclassified magazines — from Western countries. To give one example, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, created by the US Congress in 2000 to monitor US-China issues, wrote in its annual report last month that “China is stealing vast amounts of sensitive information from US computer networks,” echoing conclusions from the previous year that Beijing was pursuing new technology “aggressively” through research and business deals and industrial espionage.
Other states have long considered Beijing to be the world’s foremost economic and military spy, whether targeting individuals, groups or governments.
If the West were to sentence to death every Chinese operative caught red-handed in an act of espionage and every employee of Xinhua news agency — long identified by Western counter-intelligence as an arm of Chinese intelligence — death row would run the length of the Great Wall.
To its discredit, Taipei remained silent in the days leading to Wo’s execution. After all, if Wo did work with Taiwanese intelligence, the least Taipei could have done for one of its assets was try to come to the man’s rescue.
If Wo was innocent, as he claimed to the day he died, the Cabinet could have easily established this by liaising with intelligence agencies and placing pressure on the Chinese to do the right thing.
Perhaps, as many states do when sensitive matters unfold, Taipei worked behind the scenes and contacted Beijing in an attempt to have the sentence overturned.
Absent official comment, there is no way of knowing. Still, Taipei could have easily taken the moral high ground on the matter by publicly calling for Wo’s life to be spared.
But it didn’t, and this silence was an act of cowardice that reflects very poorly on the Ma administration. Wo’s daughters, not to mention members of Taiwan’s intelligence community who place their lives at risk, would be justified in demanding hard answers.
Even clumsy communicators occasionally say something worth hearing. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for example. He has of late been accused of muddling his messages in support of Ukraine and much else. However, if you pay attention, he is actually trying to achieve something huge: a global — rather than “Western” — alliance of democracies against autocracies such as Russia and China. By accepting that mission, he has in effect taken the baton from US President Joe Biden, who hosted a rather underwhelming “summit for democracy” in December. That was before Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, when rallying the freedom-loving nations
In the past 30 years, globalization has given way to an international division of labor, with developing countries focusing on export manufacturing, while developed countries in Europe and the US concentrate on internationalizing service industries to drive economic growth. The competitive advantages of these countries can readily be seen in the global financial market. For example, Taiwan has attracted a lot of global interest with its technology industry. The US is the home of leading digital service companies, such as Meta Platforms (Facebook), Alphabet (Google) and Microsoft. The country holds a virtual oligopoly of the global market for consumer digital
Ideas matter. They especially matter in world affairs. And in communist countries, it is communist ideas, not supreme leaders’ personality traits, that matter most. That is the reality in the People’s Republic of China. All Chinese communist leaders — from Mao Zedong (毛澤東) through Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), from Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) through to Xi Jinping (習近平) — have always held two key ideas to be sacred and self-evident: first, that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is infallible, and second, that the Marxist-Leninist socialist system of governance is superior to every alternative. The ideological consistency by all CCP leaders,
Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) on Saturday expounded on her concept of replacing “unification” with China with “integration.” Lu does not she think the idea would be welcomed in its current form; rather, she wants to elicit discussion on a third way to break the current unification/independence impasse, especially given heightened concerns over China attacking Taiwan in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She has apparently formulated her ideas around the number “three.” First, she envisions cross-strait relations developing in three stages: having Beijing lay to rest the idea of unification of “one China” (一個中國); next replacing this with