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Taiwan-PRC spy swap has dim prospects

Taiwan-PRC spy swap has dim prospects

Just as the fourth white-gloved talks between envoys from Taiwan and the authoritarian People's Republic of China were getting underway in Taichung earlier this month, a former disgraced section chief for Taiwan's military intelligence bureau suddenly launched a media campaign calling for the exchange of jailed intelligence personnel of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and Chinese Communist Party regimes.
The call by former MIB section chief and ex-major general Chen Hu-men, who was convicted in military court in the mid-1980s and jailed for involvement in plotting the murder of overseas dissident writer Henry Liu (also known as "Chiang Nan") by gangsters of the Bamboo Union Gang in Daly City, California in October 1984, is indeed an issue now confronted by President Ma Ying-jeou's restored KMT administration, but should be very cautiously handled.
During the 60 years of cross-strait contestation since the KMT regime under the late dictator Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan in late 1949 after losing the Chinese Civil War to the CCP's People's Liberation Army, the Taiwan Strait experienced over two decades of "hot" if intermittent conflict followed by a drawn-out "cold war."
During these decades of antagonism, both sides suffered numerous cases of apprehension and lengthy detention or even murder or execution of spies or other overt or covert intelligence agents.
However, the survivors of this intelligence war have yet to feel the warmth of the light of "cross-strait reconciliation" which has alledgedly occurred since Ma took office in May 2008 and they have seemingly been forgotten and destined to languish in jail cells or graveyards in the PRC or Taiwan.
This question of how to handle their cases is not only a political, but a humanitarian issue, but dealing with this condrundrum requires a foundation of political trust, which has not existed between Taiwan, whether under the KMT or the Taiwan-centric Democratic Progressive Party, and the CCP -- ruled PRC.
Ironically, both Taipei and Beijing have adopted for their own needs "three noes" policies of "no contact, no negotiations and no confirmations."

Since the Ma government took office, relations between the two formely bitter rivals of the KMT and the CCP has apparently warmed on the surface and there should therefore be no reason to continue the mutual ban on visitations of imprisioned espionage agents or even confirmation that they are under detention.
However, it is only the PRC side that continues to hold captive a large number of alleged Taiwan special agents and over 100 Taiwan businessmen have been imprisoned on heavy sentences without being released, including a considerable number of "Taiwan spies" whom have been manufactured by PRC security agencies.
Since, Taiwan, which unlike the PRC has a democratic political and legal system, has no laws specifically devoted to political crimes such as "espionage" or "counter-revolution," the two sides do not have an fair basis for formulating the nature and scope or implementing such an exchange.
In addition, in the wake of the easing of cross-strait tensions, the role of military intelligence on both sides has changed from the previous pursuit of preventative or early-warning intelligence to the securing of information on economic, industrial and trade as well as political intelligence.
On the Taiwan side, military intelligence agencies have long ceased to dispatch professional intelligence agents to the PRC and also have ceased recruiting Taiwanese businessmen to collect sensitive information in China and now mainly rely on visitors to Taiwan or Taiwan citizens returning home.
In addition, with a budgeted manpower of over 2,000 persons, the Ministry of National defense's Office of Telecommunication Development has also replaced the MND's former Military Intelligence Burau as the main force in collecting PRC-related intelligence through interception of PRC electronic communications, while similar PRC agencies for technological or signals intelligence are staffed by over 200,000, a figure which hints that this contestion is heavily weighted in Beijing's favor.
Since not even the Office of the President has been immune to PRC infilitration, it can be assumed that considerable numbers of PRC intelligence agents will able to range around Taiwan thanks to the Ma government's expansion of direct air and sea passenger links, the liberalization of visits for PRC "professional personnel," the flood of Chinese tourists now permitted into Taiwan, its permission for the long-term stationing of PRC journalists in Taiwan and, last but not least, plans to liberalize investment into Taiwan by PRC investors, almost all of which are state enterprises, including companies with PLA links.
Finally, while the PRC generally only announces the arrest of alleged Taiwan spies after they have already been convicted and sentenced, the Taiwan government has never officially published any list of detained PRC spies and hence lacks bargaining leverage,
Any answer to the appeal of former major general Chen Hu-men for the release of Taiwan intelligence agents languishing in Chinese jails can only be found in the "goodwill" of Beijing regime, which will undoubtedly only be forthcoming with major political strings that may be unaffordable to Taiwan's democratic polity.


Updated : 2021-04-21 05:09 GMT+08:00