China planted Hong Kong spy story

By Paul Lin 林保華  / 

Tue, Dec 30, 2003 - Page 8

On Nov. 30, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) specified the locations in Jiangxi (江西), Guangdong (廣東) and Fujian (福建) provinces where China has deployed 496 ballistic missiles that are aimed at Taiwan.

He did this at a campaign rally to explain the necessity of holding an anti-missile referendum. But his statements were strongly criticized by People First Party (PFP) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), who said that Beijing would use the confidential information leaked by Chen to search for and arrest Taiwan's intelligence agents in China.

On Dec. 19, the media reported that retired Major-General Chen Hu-men (陳虎門) -- a former intelligence official at the National Security Bureau (國安局) -- had said that many of the nation's intelligence agents in China, including his former subordinates and old friends, had suddenly disappeared after the president's statement on missiles.

Chen Hu-men turned for help to independent Legislator Sisy Chen (陳文茜), making plans with her to establish a rescue group for Taiwan's many intelligence agents who had allegedly disappeared in China after the "duds" (啞巴彈) statement by former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) -- Lee revealed during the 1996 missile crisis that the missiles China had fired into the Taiwan Strait were blanks -- or after Chen's "496 missiles" statement.

The Hong Kong-based Ming Pao (明報) reported on Dec. 22 that "the newspaper has confirmed through various sources that China's national security agencies have recently strengthened their crackdown on people who spy for Taiwan. They smashed a large-scale Taiwanese spy ring in mid-December. A total of 21 Taiwanese and 15 Chinese were arrested."

The newspaper reported that this was the biggest Taiwanese spy ring Beijing had uncovered in recent years, and those involved had for years been stealing secret information about China's missile deployments. The paper also reported that, according to sources, Beijing was able to crack the case because the president had revealed the specific number and locations of China's missiles aimed at the nation. As a result, the paper said, China's national security agencies had arrested many people who had spied for Taiwan in Shandong (山東), Guangdong and Fujian provinces.

The words and actions of Lin, Chen Hu-men and Ming Pao are closely related.

On the surface, Lin's criticism seems to be quite reasonable, and might make one wonder if Chen Shui-bian is qualified to be president after leaking state secrets. However, if we examine the situation more carefully, we realize that in fact Beijing is trying to help the alliance of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the PFP in the upcoming election.

Let's talk about Chen Hu-men. I'm sure that he has contributed to Taiwan's national security in the past, but now that he is retired he should not interfere with security affairs. Problems concerning the nation's intelligence agents should be handled by the authorities in charge. Chen Hu-men should speak directly to the authorities if he feels they have made mistakes, instead of recklessly making confidential information public. Even if he wants to rescue intelligence agents, he should do so secretly.

How could he go to Sisy Chen and cause an uproar? And wasn't he divulging secret information to China? Such behavior does not square with the behavior expected of a senior intelligence official. It is unacceptable if he placed a political party's interest above the nation's interest by attacking a candidate in the election.

The newspaper report is also suspicious. A newspaper might get in trouble if it stole state secrets. It's more plausible that the information was leaked by the Chinese government to accomplish political goals. Since the news report pointed a finger at Chen Shui-bian, the article was obviously published to damage his campaign.

But let's put motives aside for now. The actual content of the news report is also problematic.

First, it would be easy for Beijing to crack a spy ring if the information about missiles that Chen Shui-bian revealed were collected from a high-level Chinese official who is aware of the details of China's missile deployment. But it would be difficult to crack the case if such confidential information were collected from Taiwan's spies in China, as local authorities have to investigate those spy cases by themselves.

The problem is that if there are any high-level Chinese officials spying for Taiwan, they would be more famous than most other officials. But since Beijing was unable to discover such a spy, and was unable to invent one, it could only investigate local cases.

Second, judging from the news report, it would have been impossible for China to crack such a large-scale spy ring, one involving dozens of spies, within half a month of Chen Shui-bian's statements.

Third, when Chen's Shui-bian made his missile statements, he mentioned the deployment of missiles in Jiangxi, Guangdong and Fujian provinces.

But in the news report, the arrests took place in Shandong, Guangdong and Fujian provinces.

How did Jiangxi become Shandong?

Did Taiwan's intelligence agents run away from Jiangxi and go to Shangdong?

Were the arrests of Taiwan's intelligence agents in Shandong also a result of the remarks?

In view of all this, I believe that the Hong Kong news report was published to carry out Beijing's purposes.

Although I do not rule out the possibility that Taiwanese spies were arrested in China, Beijing might have been keeping an eye on them already, and chose to crack down at this precise moment only to make the president look bad.

Thus, as the election draws near, a sensational news report was published to set the president up.

Also, under an authoritarian regime such as China's, there is no guarantee that some of those arrested weren't arrested wrongly, simply for the sake of political gain.

China obviously had the news report published in order to echo the criticisms made by Lin and some other politicians. In addition to affecting the president's election prospects, the Chinese government wished to create chaos in Taiwan.

If the nation's politicians really love Taiwan, they should speak and act very cautiously, and do not do anything that may "sadden their own people and gladden the enemy," as the saying goes.

If they want to avoid being labeled pro-China, they should clearly draw a line between themselves and the Chinese regime. Otherwise, doubts will remain in the minds of the people.

Paul Lin is a commentator based in New York.