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China intensifies espionage as Taiwan's presidential election draws near

Taiwan cracking down on suspected spies

A Taiwan flag at Liberty Square in Taipei, Taiwan. (Reuters photo)

A Taiwan flag at Liberty Square in Taipei, Taiwan. (Reuters photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan has seen a rise in China-linked espionage, as seen by the numerous charges and convictions of suspects in the last 10 months, according to a BBC report.

Beijing has intensified and expanded its espionage efforts beyond military circles. At least 16 people have been accused of spying for China since the beginning of 2023, compared with the 44 espionage cases between 2013 and 2019, per BBC. This comes ahead of Taiwan’s presidential election on Jan. 13.

Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel, said Taiwan is an easy target for Chinese spies given its proximity and common language. Taiwan is also "not very strict" about cracking down on espionage, he said.

"This has an effect on willingness to spy for China if you think the 'downside risks' aren't so serious," Newsam said. He added that Taiwan did not have concrete measures in place to restrict access to classified information until recently. "If you're not controlling sensitive and secret information very well … You should expect any competent foreign intelligence service to get access to it. That's played out in Taiwan for a long, long time," he said.

In July, Lu Chi-hsien (魯紀賢), a diabolo instructor, and four others were arrested for allegedly establishing a spy network. More recently, Liu Sheng-shu (劉聖恕), a retired Air Force colonel, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in October for leading a military spy ring for Beijing.

Taiwan's National Security Bureau Director-General Tsai Ming-Yen (蔡明彥) pointed out last week that Beijing has long engaged in a "war without gunfire" against Taiwan, including air defense identification zone incursions, diplomatic isolation, and import bans. Many observers expect more Chinese interference as the presidential election draws nearer. Tsai also mentioned Beijing’s continuous cyberattacks on Taiwan in order to meddle in the election.