Earlier this week, local media reported that the Taiwanese and Chinese national security bureaus had held secret talks in a third country regarding the exchange of jailed spies.
Taiwan reportedly requested the release of two Taiwanese intelligence officers who were illegally arrested in 2006 by Chinese agents at its border with Vietnam. Rather than asking for the release of its agents, China requested the release of former Taiwanese major general Lo Hsien-che (羅賢哲), who was sentenced to life in prison for selling military secrets to Beijing.
While Taiwanese authorities reportedly rejected the demand, the incident nonetheless prompted one intriguing question: Why is China seeking the release of a Taiwanese agent rather than its own people? One foremost natural and reasonable speculation would be that China must still find Lo valuable, believing he still possesses information the country desires.
Lo, a former head of communications and electronic information at the army command headquarters, and the highest-ranking Taiwanese officer to be caught spying for China in nearly five decades, reportedly had access to information on a Taiwan-US military cooperation project known as Po Sheng (“Broad Victory”), which involved communication links between the armed forces of the two countries that gave the Taiwanese military access to US intelligence systems.
Although Lo has been convicted, chances are that there is no real way of knowing exactly what he might know. His past high-ranking status, background in communications and electronic information and access to US intelligence information certainly makes him a valuable “person of choice” for China. One cannot help but wonder about the possibility of officials in the government being eyed as recruits by China — and about how many of them have already fallen into the trap.
This brings to mind an alarming remark by National Security Bureau Director Tsai Der-sheng (蔡得勝). In March, while fielding questions from lawmakers at the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, Tsai said: “In the past, enemies could hardly penetrate [into Taiwan] and the slogan of ‘Be careful, communist spies are around you’ (匪諜就在你身邊) was everywhere, whereas now, there is no such slogan, but there are many people who should not be here.”
If Taiwan considers acquiescing to China’s demand to release Lo, the repercussions for the nation’s national security are beyond imagination. It would be like broadcasting to those spying for Beijing: “Don’t worry, if things go wrong, China will bring you back.”
Following the Lo case, the legislature amended the National Intelligence Services Act (國家情報工作法), which stipulates that intelligence agents who spy on their own country could see their sentences reduced as long as they turn themselves in and provide accurate accounts leading to the arrest of other spies. The clause essentially suggests that there is a way out even if you are caught to have turned against your country and spied on Taiwan for China.
There may have been a thaw in cross-strait relations since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) assumed office. However, no matter how much tensions may be decreasing, intelligence operations will always exist.
For the sake of ensuring the nation’s security, the government has the solemn responsibility of not losing its vigilance in its pursuit of a so-called “cross-strait reconciliation.”