Taiwanese businessman Ko-Suen "Bill" Moo is locked away in a U.S. jail for trying to steal American military secrets, but defense experts question whether there are more spies like Moo in Taiwan working for China.
China's access to the type of high-tech defense technology that Moo tried to steal has become a hot button issue in the United States.
Earlier this month, American officials expressed concern that China's recent missile downing of a weather satellite could lead to a new arms race in space.
Moo, who was employed by U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., was arrested in late 2005 in Florida for trying to buy an F-16 fighter jet engine and other state-of-the-art defense equipment for Beijing, including cruise missiles.
He pleaded guilty in May 2006 and was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.
Moo's case continues to reverberate in Washington, where concern has long been rife that China's spy network is working overtime to help the country expand its already substantial military power.
Concern about the Moo case is also apparent in Taiwan, which depends on U.S.-made weapons to help deter a possible Chinese attack. Beijing has long threatened to use force to take over the island, which split from China in a civil war in 1949.
When Moo was first arrested, Taiwanese officials feared the case would make Washington think twice about its longtime defense relationship with Taipei.
"We were concerned," said one Taiwanese military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "We did an extensive survey of what Bill Moo undertook when he was in Taiwan. We are very dependent on the U.S. for military sales and we do not want anything to interfere with them."
A case like Moo's would once have seemed unthinkable on this island of 23 million people that until the early 1990s was staunch anti-communist. But tourist and business ties between Taiwan and mainland China have flourished in recent years as restrictions on trade and travel were eased.
Taiwanese companies have invested more than US$100 billion (euro77 billion) in the mainland, and annual bilateral trade _ heavily in Taiwan's favor _ continues to climb quickly.
Rick Fisher, a U.S.-based expert on the Chinese military, believes the warming atmosphere between Taipei and Beijing offers serious foreign policy challenges for Washington, because it raises the prospect of Moo-like clones lurking in the Taiwanese woodwork.
"China could make tremendous use of Taiwan by infiltrating or recruiting officers, soldiers, diplomats, military technicians, all of (whom) have career-long exposure to American military technology," said Fisher, of the International Assessment and Strategy Center in suburban Washington.
Taiwan's Ministry of Defense disagrees with Fisher's contention about the danger of spies like Moo, insisting that U.S. arms it buys will never end up in China.
"We will not allow any U.S. weapons that (are sold) to Taiwan to be transferred or delivered to China," said ministry spokesman Rear Admiral Wu Chi-feng.
The U.S. Department of Defense declined to comment on the Moo affair.
Annual U.S. military sales to Taiwan total about US$1 billion (euro775 million), and account for some 90 percent of the island's imports of foreign weapons.
Despite Moo's arrest and conviction, the U.S. is still pressing Taiwanese lawmakers to approve the purchase of a long-delayed US$15 billion (euro11.6 billion) package of American weapons, including submarines, Patriot missiles and aircraft.
In Taiwan, the main body working to combat Chinese espionage is the Ministry of Justice's Investigation Bureau, which is widely respected for its professionalism.
Dan Blumenthal, formerly senior director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia at the Pentagon's Office of International Security Affairs, says that agencies like the Investigation Bureau give Taiwan a distinct advantage in fighting Chinese spy efforts.
"Taiwan has been upgrading its security system and takes the Chinese counterintelligence threat more seriously than most NATO countries," said Blumenthal, who now works at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Blumenthal believes that another serious obstacle for China in obtaining U.S. military secrets in Taiwan is the safeguards that the Pentagon and American arms manufacturers maintain on sensitive military hardware.
These include tiny computer chips which allow items to be tracked, and built-in self-destruct mechanisms that are activated when sensitive components are extracted in an attempt to replicate them.
"The Department of Defense protects its crown jewels very well," Blumenthal said.