The Economic Democracy Union yesterday proposed expanding the scope of personnel subject to cross-strait travel restrictions, saying that proposals to protect key industries would not be sufficient to curtail theft of sensitive trade secrets.
The Mainland Affairs Council earlier this year proposed amendments to the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例) that would require those working in “national core technologies” to apply before traveling to China.
The amendments, which have been sent to the Executive Yuan for approval, would also set a fine of NT$2 million to NT$10 million (US$71,505 to US$357,526) for contravening the rule.
Photo: Chen Yu-fu, Taipei Times
Aimed at protecting the nation’s economic competitiveness, the regulations would only apply to those working for companies that have been commissioned by or have received subsidies from the government.
The law as it stands is already far too limited in scope to have an effect, Taiwan Citizen Front head Hsu Kuang-tse (許冠澤) told a news conference at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.
As an example, Hsu cited an espionage case involving retired army lieutenant colonel Cheng Chih-wen (鄭智文) and his father, former Labor Party chairman Cheng Chao-ming (鄭昭明).
The two were accused of meeting a Chinese agent in Tokyo, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, accepting gifts in exchange for information, assisting in setting up a spy network in Taiwan and promising to persuade others to surrender in the event of a Chinese invasion, Hsu said.
The father and son in August last year were found guilty of crimes against national security, receiving suspended sentences of 10 months and one year respectively in addition to fines.
The light sentences relative to their crimes exposes a need for not only judicial reform, but also changes to the law restricting travel by sensitive personnel, Hsu said.
Hsu was referring to Article 9 of the act, which formerly required all Taiwanese to apply with the Ministry of the Interior before traveling to China, Institutum Iurisprudentiae Academia Sinica researcher Chiou Wen-tsong (邱文聰) said.
Since 2003, the rule has been gradually eased and now only requires eight categories of people to apply, including those involved in national security, high-level officials, military and police, he added.
The latest proposed amendment seeks to expand the list to include those involved in key technologies, but Chiou said it would not be enough.
For a start, he suggested expanding its scope to include personnel working at research institutes in “national key areas,” as well as those who play critical roles in the nation’s infrastructure.
The government has approved four universities’ plans to set up institutes researching artificial intelligence, semiconductors, finance and other key areas with corporate partners, with half of their funding provided by the National Development Fund, he said.
Such institutes are no less important to national security and economic development than the personnel listed in the council’s proposed amendment and should therefore be included in the law, he said.
Otherwise, it would be akin to “smashing your own feet with a rock,” Chiou added.
As for the second category, Economic Democracy Union convener Lai Chung-chiang (賴中強) raised for example all of the people involved in creating and managing the new electronic identification cards.
If the card system goes online, the programmers, system engineers and executives involved in its creation would have access to the “digital identity key” for all Taiwanese, making them potential targets if they visit China, Lai said.
As nearly all previous cases involved contact with a Chinese agent in other countries, “only restricting travel to China is not enough,” he added.
Such personnel should be required to file detailed reports of their interactions with sensitive contacts from China, Hong Kong or Macau, he said.
To ensure that the requirement “is not toothless,” Taiwan Citizen Front secretary-general Chiang Min-yen (江旻諺) recommended revising penalties to allow at most three years in prison and fines of up to NT$10 million for failing to report or filing a false report, the same penalty handed to those found guilty of causing a public official to report misinformation.
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