Beijing continues to pose a military threat to Taiwan and it might be seeking a new way to manipulate Taiwanese politics by using retired flag officers doing business in China, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Hsueh Ling (薛凌) said yesterday.
“As many as 120 retired high-ranking Taiwanese officers are currently living in China, either running their own businesses or working in management positions at Taiwanese companies,” Hsueh told the Taipei Times in an exclusive interview in her Taipei office.
“Everyone enjoys freedom of movement, but the identity of these officers is a little sensitive and it might pose a threat to our national security, especially when China seems to be organizing them,” she said.
Hsueh said a source had told her that since the beginning of the year as many as 120 retired generals living in China have joined the “Stars of Taiwan Club” (台灣之星聯誼會), which, the source said, might have been initiated by Chinese officials.
The name refers to the stars that denote a general’s rank.
“Although many retired generals have been living in China for many years, it is the first time that they have tried to form an organization, and I suspect that China is trying to do something through the organization,” the lawmaker said.
The military’s personnel network is a closed system, “but if you could break into the network, then you would have access to connect perhaps to serving officers, military school students, or residents in military dependents’ quarters,” she said.
A few of the retirees who do not want to join the club have decided to move back to Taiwan, while those who stay in China might have to join even if they are not interested to avoid getting into trouble with Chinese authorities, Hsueh said.
“I do not know for sure, but I suspect that China is doing this now because it wants to manipulate the outcome of the local elections later this year, and the 2016 presidential and legislative elections,” Hsueh said.
However, Minister of National Defense Yen Ming (嚴明) dismissed Hsueh’s concerns.
The ministry was not aware of any retired general traveling to China in violation of regulations that ban them from visiting China for several years after they retire, Yen said at a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.
The length of the bans depends on how much classified material senior officers handled during their careers, the minister said.
The ministry has information about the whereabouts of retired generals and the activities they are involved in when they visit China, he said.
Some generals have traveled to China after the bans on such travel expire to visit relatives or to learn more about Chinese history, Yen said.
“However, none of them have done anything that harms the interests of the nation,” he said.
“We are not aware of any that are running a business in mainland China or have settled down there,” Yen said in response to a question from DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯).
If a retired general is connected to a leak of confidential information to China, the ministry would probe their legal culpability, Yen said.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan