China is intensifying its psychological warfare against Taiwan and appears to be using tourism as a means to collect intelligence in Taiwan, information obtained by the Taipei Times shows.
Reports on various Chinese military Web sites dating back to March last year reveal that the Nanjing Military Region’s General Political Department’s (GPD) 311 Base in Fuzhou City, Fujian Province, has been turned into a center of political warfare operations against Taiwan.
Reorganization efforts have seen China’s Voice of the Straits radio, formerly known as the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Fujian frontline broadcasting station, incorporated into the 311 Base.
The station, a service launched in the 1950s to broadcast propaganda at Taiwan, introduced online broadcasting in April 2000.
The move was part of an expansion of psychological warfare from the radio station to a variety of fields, including publishing and other areas of contact with Taiwan, making the 311 Base “the cornerstone of the PLA’s psychological warfare against Taiwan,” the reports said.
Included in those other “areas of contact” was tourism, the reports said, adding that the 311 Base and its subsidiaries would make “further investments,” without specifying what those were.
News of the reorganization coincided with rapid growth last year in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan.
Among the functions of the GPD are ideological education, security, discipline, propaganda and psychological work among active service personnel. Two subunits — liaison and security — are of particular interest.
The Liaison Department, whose primary target is Taiwan, is responsible for influencing the political opinions and attitudes of enemy personnel, as well as collecting and analyzing intelligence on social, political and demographic situations in target countries. It also directs training on psychological warfare.
The role of the Security Department, among others, is directing security and counterintelligence operations.
Chinese must obtain permission from the Chinese government to visit Taiwan. Those who intend to travel independently must apply to the Ministry of Public Security through a Chinese tour organizer.
Security analysts have long said that this process presents Chinese authorities with opportunities to “direct” Chinese tourists. It is also believed that Chinese intelligence operatives have been using tourism as cover to undertake operations in Taiwan.
Since President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration opened the country to Chinese tourism, a number of incidents involving Chinese have raised concerns about national security. In May 2009, Ma Zhongfei (馬中飛) was arrested on charges of spying at a military facility in Taipei after he was caught taking pictures near a restricted area.
Less well known is that that facility houses the Information and Communication Security Technology center, which plays a crucial coordination role in ensuring information security for all government agencies.
Asked for comment, Tourism Bureau Deputy Director General David Hsieh (謝謂君) said he had not heard of such things and did not want to speculate on the motives of Chinese visitors.
“When we allowed Chinese to travel in Taiwan, the organizations in charge of national security evaluated some of the issues that this might create,” he said, adding that the bureau only wanted to focus on tourism.
Travel permit applications by Chinese tourists are reviewed by the National Immigration Agency, he said.
Chinese who are part of a tour group must abide by the schedules arranged by Taiwanese travel agents and are unlikely to engage in non-tourism activities, Hsieh said.
As for free independent travelers, Hsieh said different government agencies should have their own security measures, but should not single out Chinese tourists.
Some travel agents told the Taipei Times they had heard that Chinese “secret service” agents were joining tour groups to monitor the movement of Chinese tourists in Taiwan and report on those who engaged in unusual activities.
However, they said they had yet to meet one in person or at least were unaware if they had done so.
About 1.6 million Chinese tourists visited Taiwan last year, a number that is expected to reach 2.1 million this year.
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