Taiwan Investigates Alleged Chinese Spy Ring Conspiracy
In a legal drama that caps off 2017 as one of the worst years in the history of Taiwan-China relations, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigative Bureau (MJIB) opened an investigation into four leading members of the pro-China pro-unification New Party for alleged espionage ties with Beijing in the morning of Dec. 19, 2017.
Prosecutors of the MJIB, in coordinated actions backed by the National Police Agency, served summonses for prominent media personality and New Party spokesman Wang Ping-chung and Ho Han-ting, Lin Ming-cheng, and Chen Ssu-chun, three New Party youth wing leaders. Furthermore, officials searched the Taipei residences of the four and detained them for questioning, in accordance with court-approved warrants. Three of the four arrested New Party leaders had accompanied New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming as part of a New Party delegation visit to China, which included meetings with top officials of China’s National People’s Political Consultative Council and Taiwan Affairs Office along with visits to major Chinese cities, before returning to Taiwan days prior to the police activity on Dec. 19.
The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office, in a statement released in the evening of Dec. 19, named the four New Party leaders as subjects of an investigation for suspected violations of the National Security Act. Prosecutor Lin Chun-ting, who headed an espionage probe earlier in 2017, was named as head of the investigation, leading Taiwanese media to float rumors about the possible links to Zhou Hongxu, the Chinese graduate student of Taiwan’s National Chengchi University — the subject of Lin’s earlier probe — convicted in Sept. 2017 of attempting to recruit spies for Beijing.
The New Party, formerly the Chinese New Party, is a right-leaning Chinese nationalist party openly supporting reunification of Taiwan with China that was formed from a split in the then-ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist Party, KMT) in 1993. Its political fortunes peaked shortly after its formation, securing 21 seats in the national legislature in 1995 before losing all seats by 2008. In the 2000 presidential election, the New Party ran a token campaign; most members instead supported the KMT candidate. In national politics, the New Party generally throws its support behind the KMT as part of the more China-friendly “pan-Blue coalition” as opposed to the more pro-Taiwan “pan-Green coalition” led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which currently controls the government of Taiwan since the 2016 presidential election.
While all four New Party leaders were eventually released within a day after being questioned, Taiwanese media was abuzz with speculation about the severity and political ramifications of the legal probe. On Dec. 20, Deputy Chairman of the New Party Lee Sheng-feng condemned the “barbaric arrest” of the four and accused the ruling DPP of attempting to silence the New Party. Senior members of the KMT, the largest opposition party in the legislature, also condemned the arrests on Dec. 21, with responses ranging from accusing the DPP of being hypocritical with regards to its recent efforts to push for transitional justice to declaring the arrests a start of a DPP-led “green terror” (in reference to the political repression of the “White Terror” period of Taiwan’s history). On television talk shows broadcasted within the week of the arrests, political pundits surmised that the New Party was suspected of trying to create a paramilitary military organization “set up on the behalf of the Chinese government” in order to “spring into action in the event of a conflict between Taiwan and China,” an assertion that was neither confirmed nor denied by official government spokespersons citing the sensitive and pending nature of the investigation.
On Jan. 2, 2018, the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office forwarded the results of the investigation to the Taiwan High Court. Prosecutors formally alleged that New Party spokesman Wang, along with party members Lin and Hou, were “used” by convicted spy Zhou to recruit military personnel for Beijing’s bidding via a secret group organized by Zhou in 2015 to “penetrate Taiwan’s military.” Prosecutors also found that China’s Taiwan Affairs Office was allegedly promising to pay Wang at least half a million US dollars annually for running pro-unification website Fire News, with additional monetary rewards for securing meetings with current and retired military officials.
Further information released on Jan. 6 suggested that Lin passed on personal and contact information of soldiers of a special operations commando unit in the Taiwan military to Zhou, who made contact with at least five officers and several cadets. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense confirmed officers were subjects of the investigation but noted that they were only listed as witnesses, not defendants. Spokesman Chen Chung-ji pledged that “special attention would be paid to educating officers about the dangers of online contacts, while the bank accounts and China travels of relatives would also be looked at.”
As the fallout from the investigation continues into the new year, Taiwan-China relations seem poised to drop to historically new lows. Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have been steadily increasing, with recent Chinese military drills, a decision on Jan. 10 by China to open up air routes in the Taiwan Strait, and increased suspicion in Taipei of Chinese designs for Taiwan. China has condemned the investigation into the New Party, describing the DPP as seeking to “wantonly crack down on and persecute forces and people who uphold peaceful reunification.”