Lawmakers and a researcher on Tuesday called for military trials to be reinstated during peacetime to help deter espionage in the military after an army colonel was charged with spying for China.
Hsiang Te-en (向德恩) was charged with corruption, pledging allegiance to China and receiving payment from Chinese operatives to work as a spy.
Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a research fellow at the Institute of National Defense and Security Research, said that military espionage poses a serious threat to national security, and reinstating military trials during peacetime for active personnel would improve troop discipline and deter spying.
Hsiang is only the latest in a spate of espionage cases targeting Taiwan’s military. In January, three members of the New Party were charged with espionage for allegedly receiving Chinese funding. In June, former Naval Education, Training and Doctrine Command General Division commander Chang Pei-ning (張培凝) was sentenced to nearly four years in prison on espionage-related charges.
It is often said that Taiwanese found guilty of spying for China get off far more leniently than their counterparts in China would for the same offenses. Four years in prison would hardly serve as a deterrent for someone who faces the possibility of enriching themselves substantially by cooperating with the Chinese Communist Party. Convicted spies would also likely face a hero’s welcome if they moved to China after being released from a Taiwanese prison.
Reinstating military trials would be a more effective deterrent, as Article 17 of the Criminal Code of the Armed Forces (陸海空軍刑法) says that a person convicted of “committing an act of espionage for an enemy or rendering aid to an enemy’s spy” is subject to a punishment of “death or imprisonment for life.”
Of course, the effectiveness of this deterrent depends on the military’s resolve to enforce it with a heavy hand, and the degree to which corruption has already infiltrated the military.
If lawmakers do not allow the military to deal with its own traitors, then they should amend civilian laws to increase the penalties for spying for China. Politicians and armed forces personnel should have restrictions imposed on them upon assuming duty. For example, it should be expected that all military personnel with authority over subordinates or access to sensitive information, as well as politicians and government personnel, should be prohibited from receiving funds sourced in China, or from traveling to China for five years after leaving their post.
National security concerns trump personal privacy, and such personnel should accept that their banking activities and communications would be monitored to ensure adherence with regulations.
There should be no confusion that China is a military threat and a national security concern, so no public employee or military official has a justifiable reason to have contact with entities in China. Given the opportunity, China would immediately occupy Taiwan, dismantle its democratic institutions and impose limitations on speech, media and personal freedoms. That is why it is imperative that convicted traitors be dealt with severely and without impunity.
China and Russia are known for turning a nation’s democracy against itself. Chinese agents occupy spaces of discourse to sow confusion and discontent, infiltrate protests to intimidate and silence rights advocates, and use political freedoms to develop parties that seek to undermine social stability by sowing confusion and conflating facts.
They take advantage of the comparatively lenient judicial systems that typify democracies. This is why lawmakers must close loopholes and cut off Chinese access to people in Taiwan’s democratic institutions.
Laws must be amended to close the door on Chinese espionage and infiltration.
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