Any Taiwanese more than 30 years old will be familiar with the slogans “keep secrets and watch out for spies” and “communist spies are right beside you.” Such watchwords could once be seen in school textbooks and painted on walls everywhere, reminding Taiwanese to be on their guard against the Chinese communist threat.
This vigilance began to break down following the end of the Period of Mobilization for Suppressing Communist Rebellion in 1990 and all the more so since Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) became president last year. Spies have even been discovered in the Presidential Office and the case of alleged communist agents Wang Ren-bing (王仁炳) and Chen Pin-jen (陳品仁), though surprising, was not unforeseeable.
Hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese are visiting, doing business or living in China at any given time. Information flows freely, allowing China to pry into Taiwan’s affairs almost at will. While Wang’s political background is “pan-green,” his suspected accomplice, Chen, has “pan-blue” connections, so politicians on either side cannot point fingers. Wang entered service in the Presidential Office under the previous government.
China draws no line between “green” and “blue” when looking for collaborators. Lust and avarice are weaknesses common to all, and China knows how to exploit such foibles to the full. If Chinese intelligence agencies need to recruit informers, there are many means available — blackmail or bribery, money or sex. Now that Taiwanese have dropped their guard, they can easily take the bait and become pawns in China’s spy game.
As a result of the Ma administration’s pro-China stance, top Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) leaders are talking to China through the KMT-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forum and KMT members are busier visiting Beijing than the Presidential Office in Taipei.
The difference between friend and foe is becoming increasingly blurred as an increasing number of the KMT rank and file follow their superiors’ lead. Anyone leaking secrets in the past would at least feel regret, but in future such behavior may instead be seen as justified and a means to improve cross-strait relations.
China used to rely on spies to obtain information on discussions and decisions made at KMT central committee meetings, but these days such information is widely reported. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office had to rely on information gathered by academics visiting Taiwan, but nowadays they simply call high Taiwanese national security officials. Because these officials often travel to China or receive Chinese visitors in Taiwan, the Chinese say they “feed at the table of both sides of the Taiwan Strait.”
Compared with the information legislators, party officials and high national security officials can reveal, the information allegedly passed on by Wang and Chen was pretty low-end. However, national policy trends and other information that top leaders give China to “promote cross-strait understanding” and “reduce cross-strait animosity” are seen as part of their official duties.
The Ma administration is planning to relax restrictions on civil servants visiting China and on Taiwanese diplomats having contacts with Chinese diplomats. The door is open wider, so if the recent spy incident can serve as a wake up call for the government, it could be a good thing.