Sun, Mar 24, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The demise of the top Chinese mole

Major-General Liu Liankun was the highest-ranking Chinese officer known to have spied for Taiwan. His arrest and execution in 1999 are often blamed on former president Lee Teng-hui’s remarks made during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

The only known photo of Liu Liankun, the highest-ranking Chinese military officer to ever spy for Taiwan.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

March 25 to March 31

“Chinese Communist major-general killed by Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) words,” screamed the headlines in most major newspapers that were covering the reopening of the Dai Li Memorial Hall (戴雨農先生紀念館) in March last year.

The officer in question was Liu Liankun (劉連昆), who was revealed to be honored in the hall among 75 intelligence officers killed in the line of duty. Liu was the highest-ranking People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer known to have spied for Taiwan. He was arrested by Chinese authorities on March 29, 1999 and subsequently executed.

Lee’s “words” were spoken on March 7, 1996 at the height of the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis. Beijing was determined to prevent then-president Lee from being reelected, and word was that it would soon conduct missile tests aimed at Taiwan.

In a speech, Lee claimed that the missiles were blanks, and assured the public that he had already prepared several scenarios to deal with the situation. China fired three missiles the next day into waters alarmingly close to Taiwan; as Lee predicted, they didn’t have a payload.

The story broadcast in the media was that Lee had learned of the missiles from Liu’s intelligence reports, and by leaking the information in his speech, he had alerted Beijing to a major rat in their ranks. After conducting a thorough investigation, the Chinese homed in on Liu.

However, Lee has repeatedly denied that his remarks had anything to do with Liu’s intelligence. Then-minister of defense Chiang Chung-ling (蔣仲苓) stated in the immediate aftermath that Lee had made the correct guess due to his “extensive knowledge of missiles,” with the ministry further noting that it is common knowledge that most countries don’t arm their missiles in long-range tests.

“The aim is to test the accuracy of the missile, so why waste a warhead?” concurred a Taipei Times editorial on June 30, 2001 titled “The unmaking of a spy.”

IMPLICATIONS OF LEE’S SPEECH

Looking back on old news reports, it seems that the earliest claim that Lee’s remarks caused Liu’s death came from a Washington Post article from Feb. 20, 2000 titled “Taiwanese mistake led to 3 spies’ executions.”

In that article, an unnamed “senior Taiwanese government official” stated that the government had indeed received intelligence from Liu and that Lee should not have revealed it.

“We should have used other methods to calm our population.”

Furthermore, the official said that the government had tried to get Liu out of China right after the presidential elections, but bureaucratic foul-ups delayed the process, leading to his arrest.

Just two weeks later, disgruntled intelligence officer Chang Chih-peng (張志鵬) held a press conference claiming that Lee’s “careless remarks” had seriously compromised Taiwan’s intelligence network in China, leading to the death of Liu and many others. Chang was allegedly the one who brought to Taiwan the intelligence Liu had provided on China’s plans for the missile crisis.

The story blew up after Chang later threatened to turn himself in to Chinese authorities if the government didn’t pay him NT$100 million. In response, Lee reiterated his claim that he had only guessed that the missiles were unarmed. The Ministry of National Defense refused to comment, stating that “no nation would discuss in public its intelligence network.”

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