KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) -- A collection of falsehoods, baseless statements, concocted case studies, and Communist Party propaganda. That is about all that can be said about the ludicrous Taiwanese spying story which made headlines in China and around the world over the weekend.
The coordinated effort by numerous state media outlets to promote a TV program on the state-run CCTV channel, along with a series of "special reports" following up on the show in the Global Times immediately raised suspicions that the CCP propaganda machinery was at it again. And so it proved.
What we learned (and did not learn)
So, what exactly did this exclusive news report reveal? Well apparently, the CCP’s comically titled "Thunderbolt 2018 Crackdown" has uncovered more than 100 spies and agents of Taiwan operating in China.
And how are these spies recruited? Apparently, many are Chinese students in Taiwan who are lured by offers of sex and money in recruitment attempts which Chinese authorities have labeled "vile."
If this kind of action is "vile," then what superlatives should we use to describe the CCP’s forced incarceration of more than a million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province? Or the countless other grotesque human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese state?
But let us leave such a tit-for-tat argument aside for now and instead look at the allegations offered up by the Chinese media? We have to use the term "allegations" because "facts" were few and far between.
Apart from CCP data on detained agents and spies (all of which has to taken with a big pinch of salt), and a ton of heavy-handed rhetoric, all the program had to offer were a handful of case studies. These included the case of an 18-year old Chinese student who apparently entered into a sexual relationship with a Taiwanese intelligence operative and subsequently handed over "about 100 pieces of information on science and technology related to national defense and was paid about 45,000 yuan."
Absolutely no evidence was presented to back up these claims, which could be true, but could equally be complete works of fiction.
There can be no question that the program and coordinated media coverage surrounding it was a piece of carefully choreographed propaganda. Its purpose could have been to instill even greater anti-Taiwanese sentiment in the Chinese people, to provide a reason for the CCP to further downgrade political ties between China and Taiwan, or perhaps to try and discourage Chinese students from choosing to study in Taiwan. It likely to achieve all three effects.
The Taiwanese response to the program has been a rather bewildered denial of the baseless accusations being leveled against them and accusations that Beijing is merely stoking up tensions between the two countries for their own political purposes.
The CCP's espionage record
One point that has been missed by much of the international coverage of the story is the rank hypocrisy of the CCP’s accusations.
As part of their response, the Mainland Affairs Council urged Beijing not to plot "political manipulation targeting Chinese students studying in Taiwan." In other words, never mind this nonsense about our spies, stop sending your spies to Taiwan masquerading as students.
This is something there is concrete evidence for. In 2017, a Chinese student was tried, convicted, and jailed for collecting sensitive information and trying to build a spy network in Taiwan. And this case was held in a proper, open court, not one of the CCP’s kangaroo military tribunals where the result is a foregone conclusion before the hearing even starts.
Indeed, evidence of Chinese spying, subversion, and intellectual property theft are rife around the world. Examples have included Chinese students at international universities forcing Taiwanese events to be canceled, and openly defying and protesting against lecturers who espouse views that at odds with the CCP version of events. They are openly acting as agents of the Chinese state. No doubt behind closed doors, at least some are undertaking other state-sponsored activities too.
A real motivation for spying for Taiwan
Does Taiwan attempt to recruit some Chinese students to act as Taiwanese spies in China? Yes, it almost certainly does. All countries spy on each other, especially those hostile ones like China and Taiwan. There is certainly no doubt the CCP has managed to recruit countless Taiwanese students and ex-pat workers in China to their cause with bribes and threats, and continues to do so.
But it is also equally likely that some Chinese students willingly choose to work for Taiwan. Arriving in Taiwan from Communist China must be like having a huge burden lifted off your back. It gives them an opportunity to see what life could be like in China without the oppressive Communist regime hanging over your every action.
They are able to speak freely, access the internet without fears of censorship and surveillance, witness democracy at work, engage in political debate, build relationships with people without worrying if they might betray them to the CCP authorities, and so much more.
It is inevitable that some will be enticed by the prospect of a life of freedom in Taiwan. Some will choose to try and stay here. Others may move to other countries around the world. But a few will no doubt be swung by the prospect of trying to bring these freedoms to their home countries and despite the risks involved, they will choose to try and follow that path.
The CCP will know that this is a risk and perhaps that was another motivation behind this latest anti-Taiwan propaganda push. One thing we can conclude with certainty is that Taiwan now needs to be very wary of those Chinese students that do continue to arrive in Taiwan.
While it was no doubt assumed before that at least some were active CCP agents, it is fair to assume that this number will now rise. That means the threat to Taiwanese national security from these overseas students will be significant and the Taiwanese authorities need to do all they can without the confines of the law to minimize the risk they pose.