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Beware of mainland Chinese bearing gifts

Beware of mainland Chinese bearing gifts

Government officials in Taiwan must be very careful in allowing businesspeople and white-collar workers from China to live and work in Taiwan. The growing number of such ‘visitors’ to Taiwan represents a real threat to Taiwan’s job market and can also create serious security problems for the island. Given the problems Taiwan has with aggressive spying and intelligence gathering by Chinese agencies, the government should be extremely cautious in opening its gates to large numbers of workers from China.

Statistics from the National Immigration Agency (NIA) show the number of Chinese traveling to Taiwan on business increased from 15,000 in 2005 to more than 110,000 last year. These numbers will increase significantly if the Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services (CSATS) is passed. CSATS would allow even more businesspeople and white-collar employees from China to work in Taiwan, contributing to lower wage levels and wider youth unemployment. This could also pose a threat to national security, according to National Cheng Kung University law professor Hsu Chung-hsin.

Part of the problem in handling people who come to Taiwan on business or seeking work is that citizens of the PRC are not regarded as ‘foreigners’ and are thus not subject to many of the restrictions that bind people from other areas.

Hsu notes that Chinese businesspeople and white-collar workers can stay in Taiwan three years and may apply for an unlimited number of extensions. A 2013 amendment to the NIA’s Method for Requesting Entry to Taiwan for People from Mainland China loosened restrictions on companies sending employees to Taiwan on business, including minimum annual revenue of NT$10 million and a maximum of 400 entries per year.

A recent article in Defense News pointed out that Taiwan’s increasingly permissive policies toward visitors from China provide easy openings for Beijing to infiltrate Taiwanese society and conduct clandestine activities here. Chinese businesspeople and white-collar workers are a much greater threat to Taiwan’s national security than ordinary Chinese tourists, as they can stay in Taiwan for an extended period of time and operate as a “Chinese fifth column.”

The NIA and the Ministry of Labor (MOL) are incapable of dealing with Chinese workers in Taiwan, notes Taiwan Labor Front Secretary-General Son Yu-liam. Son points to an incident in New Taipei City in December in which a Chinese technician died while installing an elevator. The accident showed that Chinese are working in Taiwan, and the murky status of Chinese in Taiwan makes it difficult to pin down just exactly how many are on the island.
Allowing more businesspeople in on a long-term basis can only add to the tensions that have arisen from China’s already considerable presence in Taiwan. The activities of Chinese political and military organizations in seeking information on military secrets and other sensitive data on the island are reflected in the number of Taiwanese military personnel selling sensitive information.

The list of retired officers who have been convicted of selling information to Chinese contacts is lengthy and revealing. It includes an alarming number who have turned over classified data on US military systems in exchange for cash. Over the years, sold China has gained information on the E-2K Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft, Patriot anti-ballistic missile systems, the Hawk air defense missile system, and the Raytheon Palm IR-500 infrared camera. In addition, China has collected all the data it needs to compromise Taiwan’s Po Sheng C4I upgrade program and the Anyu-4 air defense network upgrade program, its Shuan-Ji electronic warfare technology project and the Wan Chien joint standoff weapon.

In a 2012 book Peter Mattis of the Jamestown Foundation examined the case of retired Vice Adm. Ko Cheng-sheng. Cases like Ko’s show the wide variety of Chinese spy agencies chasing information in Taiwan, he said.

Ko was sentenced to 14 months for providing China the military’s plans for the defense of Taiwan and Penghu. His Chinese contacts included the Ministry of State Security and an organ of the PLA General Staff Department, Taiwanese businesspeople working in China often find that the PLA’s General Political Department, the United Front Work Department and security elements at every level are happy to offer their services in exchange for information or simply to inspire greater acceptance of Chinese ideas and points of view.

The most devastating spy case was perhaps that of Maj. Gen. Lo Hsien-che, a Taiwan military attaché arrested in 2011. Lo was recruited by Chinese agents while on assignment in Thailand 2002-2005. On returning to Taiwan Lo was headed up the Army’s telecommunications and electronic information department and proceeded to provide China with information about Taiwan’s cryptographic and signal intelligence capabilities and intelligence sharing with the US.

China uses retired Taiwan military officers to help recruit spies in the armed forces. Retired officers receive all-expense paid trips to China by the United Front Work Department. They are lauded by Chinese officials for returning to the “homeland” and many are taken on tours of their ancestral homes.

Lin Chong-Pin, a former Taiwan deputy minister of defense, explains that China enjoys a number of advantages over Taiwan in the cross-strait spy wars. To begin with, China is a “tightly controlled authoritarian society versus a democratic one given to excess of freedom and laxity of discipline and regulations.” Second, China has a long tradition of winning espionage campaigns against rivals, including the KMT during the Chinese civil war. Third, Beijing is resolved to achieve unification with Taiwan, versus “the severely divided political persuasion between pro-Taiwanese consciousness and pro-Chinese consciousness” in Taiwan.

China’s tactics and tools against Taiwan have compromised many aspects of the island’s military and security systems, and there is no reason to doubt they would take advantage of businesspeople and white-collar workers in various positions here. Thus any plan to allow greater numbers of such people onto the island must be considered carefully, with mechanisms to ensure Taiwan’s safety and security are not endangered.

The Roman historian counseled his countrymen to “beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” warning against the tactic used by the Greeks in placing a wooden horse filled with Greek warriors before the gates of Troy. The Trojans compliantly wheeled the horse into the city and were caught off guard when the soldiers crept out at night and attacked.

Taiwan is in a precarious position with China less than a hundred kilometers across the strait, facing a growing military power and a government set on recovering its “renegade province”. Taiwan cannot afford to bring in a Trojan horse that could undermine its democracy and sovereignty.

Updated : 2021-09-28 12:53 GMT+08:00