The High Court’s Kaohsiung branch on Wednesday last week sentenced a retired air force colonel to 20 years in prison for running espionage activities for China and recruiting active-duty military officers for a spy network in Taiwan.
Although such offenses have been drawing severe penalties in the past few years, last week’s case once again laid bare that the nation is vulnerable and the law has loopholes. It is of paramount importance that military morale and discipline are restored.
The retired colonel, surnamed Liu (劉), in 2013 moved to China for business after retiring from the military. He was paid to infiltrate Taiwan’s military, recruit active-duty personnel and procure intelligence for Beijing, such as details of military planes and ships, prosecutors said.
Chinese security forces have for a long time sought Taiwanese military personnel to access confidential information and to promote Beijing’s “united front” work. The Ministry of National Defense has warned that China targets Taiwanese who have friends or relatives in China, while it also seeks to infiltrate the nation via criminal gangs and the Internet. The National Security Bureau said that recent efforts by Beijing to infiltrate Taiwan have been extended from targeting high-ranking officers to reach out to rank-and-file personnel.
With military morale and discipline down, vulnerabilities in management cannot be ignored. The investigation of Liu’s case showed that he recruited at least six active-duty officers, with most of them accused of leaking intelligence for financial incentives. In this case, a husband, a lieutenant colonel, became a spy to help pay for gambling debts, while his wife, a major, was also paid to steal military intelligence.
Last week, Taoyuan prosecutors detained four active-duty officers and soldiers from the Marine Brigade accused of stealing and selling firearms and advanced military equipment, including a Stinger missile launcher, to an organized crime group.
Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) said the ministry would address holes in military discipline and management. The ministry punished the officers in charge, and vowed to improve strategies to prevent espionage and security breaches, including by amending regulations covering background checks of military personnel, identifying high-risk targets, encouraging people to report misconduct, and improving management of military documents and equipment.
Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers have proposed an amendment to the National Security Act (國家安全法) to increase penalties for espionage and leaking information by 50 percent to in-active and retired military officers. The legislative action must be accelerated.
Since 2014, military personnel have been tried in civilian courts, with military trials only permitted in times of war. However, this has led to concern that lighter penalties have been handed down in espionage cases, as the sense of national security among civilian judges differs from judges in military courts.
Perhaps military trials should be reinstated during peacetime to boost enforcement of laws against espionage.
In addition to restricting deterrent regulations, authorities should boost the discipline of the military, loyalty to the country, and the awareness and honor to safeguard Taiwan’s democracy. Improving morale is difficult, but it is a fundamental and urgent task.
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