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

Eighteen years later, Taiwan’s increasingly sensationalist media jumped on the salacious story again, citing few to no sources and quoting clueless netizens, with only a few reporters bothering to look into the details behind Liu’s career and eventual capture.


Ostensibly due to his position as a spy, few reputable sources provide details about Liu’s life. The Washington Post article provides some details, as well as a 50-minute special produced by the US government-funded Voice of America in 2014. An out-of-print book, The 70-year Espionage War between the Nationalists and Communists (國共間諜戰七十年), is only available at the National Central Library, and unfortunately the section on Liu has been ripped out.

Born in 1933, Liu had attained his rank of major-general by the late 1980s and reportedly served as deputy director of the PLA’s General Logistics Department. The Washington Post says that Liu was an easy target for Taiwanese agents because “he felt he had been wrongly implicated in an army corruption scandal and denied a promotion.”

The Voice of America, however, claims that Liu’s distaste toward the PLA began with the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and after being warned by his superiors for speaking out against the violence, he noticed that his phones were being tapped.

Taiwan’s Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB) recruited Liu in what it called the Shaokang Program (少康專案), with Liu’s codename as “Shaokang 2.” “Shaokang 1” was Shao Zhengzong (邵正宗), a PLA colonel who was in charge of convincing Liu to turn.

In late 1992, Taiwanese agents led by Pang Ta-wei (龐大為) secretly met Liu, Shao, Chang and others in Guangzhou. Liu took the train from Beijing instead of a plane to avoid detection. This was the only time Pang and Liu met. Pang tells Voice of America that he gave Liu two bottles of top grade wine and US$20,000 as an initial gift, promising to pay Liu according to his military rank in addition to bonuses for providing information — namely advance military information.

From then on, Liu provided information on China’s major military purchases, its strategy on retaking Taiwan by force as well as its plans on the handover of Hong Kong. Three months before the PLA started conducting military exercises to threaten Taiwan’s electorate in the run-up to the nation’s first-ever popular presidential election, Liu had allegedly already leaked the entire plan to Taiwan’s military. Through Liu, they found that the PLA was not only planning to take over a few minor islands, it was willing to turn the exercises into actual military operations if they were not happy with the election results.

Taiwanese authorities alerted the US, whose involvement led the PLA to tone down its actions. Liu then informed Taiwan that China would not actually attack, and its missiles wouldn’t fly over Taiwan nor would they be armed.


The Voice of America production maintains that it’s still a mystery as to how exactly Liu was caught. Pang says that while Lee’s speech may have alerted the Chinese authorities to a high-ranking spy in their ranks, there would have to have been other factors in play, including a Chinese spy working against him and possibly tapped phone conversations between Liu and MIB agents.

Even Chang told the Taipei Times in 2001 that the direct reason Liu was caught was due to a careless error by Taiwanese authorities that led Beijing to discover a cassette tape with Liu’s voice on it.

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