Thu, Jan 22, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Leaks show blurry line in the Strait

By Liang Wen-Chieh 梁文傑

Various newspapers in Taiwan have taken different approaches to the case in which Wang Ren-bing (王仁炳), a senior specialist at the Presidential Office’s Department of Special Affairs, and Chen Pin-jen (陳品仁), a former assistant to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Liao Kuo-tung (廖國棟), are accused of having colluded to leak secrets from the Office of the President.

The Chinese-language United Daily News said: “He may be a member of the pan-green camp and he may be a specialist, but he can still sell out Taiwan.”

While the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) ran the headline “Wang Ren-bing is a pan-green supporter, Chen Pin-jen a pan-blue.”

The former paper is pro-blue, the latter pro-green. The pan-blues want to blame the affair on the pan-greens, and vice versa. The truth of the matter is the question of civil servants leaking state secrets goes beyond blue and green, and it has become a major, if unspoken, national security concern. Wang and Chen’s behavior has made waves, but it is not such a big deal as it may seem. It has made waves because it is the first case in which Presidential Office staff have been implicated as informants for China, and because the leaked information about arrangements for the presidential handover ceremony, among other things, included details of the president’s movements, including times and locations.

Since such information about a head of state would be vital for a decapitation strike, the authorities of any country will attempt to keep it confidential. In that sense, it is a big deal.

On the other hand, information about a president’s schedule is known to his security guards, and journalists can find out about it easily by just asking. Although such information is sensitive, it is not hard to get. In that sense, this leak was no big deal at all. If Chen is really an informant, then he is only one of many legislative assistants who play that role.

This is by no means a new problem. Many years ago there was a case in which a legislator’s assistant was investigated and prosecuted for helping China get hold of budgets from the ministries of defense and foreign affairs. Later the Chinese went so far as to directly ask legislators for confidential budget information.

Since the signing of a joint declaration between then-KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in 2005, the two parties have become as close as members of the same family and have held a series of open forums.

Meanwhile, Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤), chairman of the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (海基會), is at liberty to pop over to Shenzhen for a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) whenever he feels like it. In the past, China relied on informants — KMT party workers or reporters — to find out what was being discussed by the KMT’s Central Standing Committee. Nowadays Beijing gets reports direct from the source both before and after committee meetings.

In the past, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office relied for its information on academics specializing in Taiwan affairs who could visit Taiwanese to make inquiries. Now all they have to do is pick up the phone and call their high-ranking contacts in Taiwan’s national security apparatus. Many of those higher-ups are people who not so long ago were visiting China every few days, or seeing off and welcoming people who regularly traveled across the strait — people who, as the Chinese like to say, get their rice on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

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