Tue, Nov 21, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Treating spies with kid gloves

While China deserves condemnation for its persistent threat to annex Taiwan and increasingly aggressive measures to penetrate Taiwanese security agencies, the Taiwanese government is not without blame: Its judicial system’s lenient treatment of people convicted of spying for China has played into Beijing’s hand.

One prime example is the case of Chinese People’s Liberation Army intelligence officer Zhen Xiaojiang (鎮小江), who in 2015 was convicted of violating the National Security Act (國家安全法). Although the court found him guilty of setting up an espionage ring by recruiting retired and active Taiwanese military officers to collect military intelligence, he was sentenced to a mere four years in prison.

Having served three years and two months behind bars, Zhen is now eligible for parole, media reports said, adding that his parole application has passed a preliminary review and, if approved by the Agency of Corrections, he could be released from prison before the end of this month.

Retired Taiwanese major-general Hsu Nai-chuan (許乃權), who was sentenced to two years and 10 months in prison in the same case, finished serving his sentence in September.

Although he is the highest-ranking Taiwanese army officer to be prosecuted for an offense against national security, Hsu could still be entitled to a monthly pension of NT$75,500 after his release if the ruling against him did not include deprivation of his civil rights for life, Veterans Affairs Council Director Lee Shying-jow (李翔宙) said yesterday.

Other officers convicted of spying for China include former navy lieutenants Chien Ching-kuo (錢經國) and Lu Chun-chun (盧俊均), who in 2014 were each sentenced to 10 months in prison; and retired major general Hou Shih-cheng (侯石城), who was found guilty of trying to recruit military officials to set up a spy network and pass on sensitive information to China, with the Supreme Court in September upholding a sentence of eight months in prison. The list goes on.

Given these light punishments, it is little wonder Beijing has stepped up its espionage activities against Taiwan.

As National Security Bureau Director-General Peng Sheng-chu (彭勝竹) said at a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee in March, the threat of Chinese espionage has increased and “China will employ all methods [of espionage], and the issue [of Chinese infiltration] is more serious than ever.”

In his article “Spy Games in Taiwan Strait: Taipei’s Unenviable Espionage Problem,” Peter Mattis, a Jamestown Foundation fellow and former US government analyst, wrote that, since 2006, more than 40 Taiwanese, including retired and active military personnel and businesspeople, have been held on charges of assisting Chinese spying.

The Taiwanese government must have reliable counterintelligence measures in place to gain the confidence of the nation’s allies, Mattis wrote.

Spying for China is punishable according to the National Security Act, which stipulates a prison sentence of one to seven years. However, these rulings prove that the law lacks teeth and has not deterred people from engaging in activities that breach national security.

If the government and lawmakers continue to fail to live up to their responsibility of drawing up more severe punishments for security breaches or breaking laws such as the National Security Act, the Classified National Security Information Protection Act (國家機密保護法) and the Criminal Code, they are effectively disarming the nation’s defense mechanism and jeopardizing national security.

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