Taiwan’s China Spy Problem
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Taiwan’s China Spy Problem


As relations between Taipei and Beijing continue to improve following the re-election of Taiwan’s President, Ma Ying-jeou, to a second term in January, China’s intelligence collection against the island it claims as its own remains as aggressive as ever, with major spy cases grabbing the headlines about once every six months.

It’s been less than two years since Taiwan was hit by the worst spying case in half a century, in which Army general Lo Hsien-che was arrested for passing classified military information to Chinese intelligence officers since 2004, in return for payment. In July of the same year, Lo was sentenced to life in prison, but it was hard to contain the damage, especially as doubts remained over how much access he had to the nation’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, which Taiwan has been modernizing with U.S. assistance for well over a decade.

This was followed by another case in March the following year, when a captain who worked at a regional operations control center north of Taipei was detained on suspicions that he had passed intelligence to China with help from an uncle who operated a business there. Once again, Taiwan’s early-warning radar systems were the object of the operation, this time targeting the 10-1E “Strong Net” — the nation’s air-defense command and control system — as well as E-2T/E-2K Hawkeye surveillance aircraft. As with the Lo case, there was disagreement as to the level of access he would have had and how damaging the information he provided to Chinese intelligence would be.

All this occurred at a time when the Ma administration was striving to improve relations across the Taiwan Strait via a series of agreements and exchanges, in the hopes that such contact would encourage Beijing to become less antagonistic. Such expectations, it seems, were misguided. Or rather, while Beijing was happy to take the first steps toward the liberalization of relations between the two historical enemies — which has arguably benefitted Taiwan in some respects — it never abandoned the hard measures of the past. As a result, China’s soft approach has not replaced the belligerent strategy of the past; instead, it complements it as part of a united front strategy to wrest Taiwan from the grips of independence and bring it back into the Motherland’s embrace.

Now Taiwan’s military is once again on damage control mode, with reports emerging on October 29 that commander Chang Chih-hsin, a retired naval officer, had been arrested on suspicion that he had collected classified information on behalf of China. The same day, the Ministry of National Defense confirmed that an investigation had been launched against Chang, the former head of the political warfare division at the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography (METOC) Office, who retired earlier this year.

In a statement, the ministry said that Chang had been recruited by China via “unidentified” intermediaries during his service at METOC and that he had attempted to lure other officers to join his efforts. A ministry spokesman added that two other  retired officers were arrested on suspicion of espionage, while others were indicted.

As with previous cases, the ministry played down the possible damage caused by the case, saying that the investigation against Chang had been launched in March, two months before his retirement, and that counter-intelligence measures were adopted in the process to ensure he didn’t have access to classified information. It also said that none of the suspects involved in the case were in active service.

Among the intelligence that Chang could have provided to China, but which the ministry denied had been leaked, were classified submarine nautical charts, as well as hydrographical and hydrological data about the waters around Taiwan. Taiwan’s Navy currently possesses four submarines, but only two are combat-capable and are undergoing refurbishment to give them the ability to launch deadly Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Taiwanese lawmakers have criticized the ministry for allowing Chang to travel to China a mere three months after retirement. He was arrested at his home in southern Taiwan prior to embarking on a second visit to China in September.

Critics of Ma’s rapprochement efforts with China say that the recent cases are only the tip of the iceberg, and argue that his friendly policies vis-à-vis China had confused members of the armed forces, who no longer know who the enemy is. (Espionage cases are not limited to the military: Taiwanese prosecutors in early 2012 began investigating two former senior officials at panel-maker AU Optronics Corp after they stole files containing corporate information about panel production technology, as well as the devices, and brought them to China, where they were promptly hired by TCL Group and its unit, China Star Optoelectronics.)

Doubly damaging to Taiwan’s reputation and defense cooperation with the U.S. is the fact that in either scenario, Taipei is damned: Failure to arrest spies supports the view that a large chunk of ice, filled with traitors, lies underwater, eating away at the nation’s defenses; conversely, arrests often serve as bad publicity for the armed forces, providing “confirmation” to those who have called on Washington to cease its defense cooperation with the island that its defense apparatus is penetrated to the core. Needless to say, the benefits for China are equally two-fold, with undetected agents providing crucial information about Taiwan’s defenses, while news of those who are caught in the act further strain the defense relationship between Taiwan and its sole guarantor of security.

With all those known cases, it is becoming increasingly evident that any rapprochement strategy with China must also include measures to protect against the theft of key information and technology. This is a lesson that Taiwan is learning the hard way, and that several countries which push for closer engagement with the rising dragon cannot afford to ignore.

J. Michael Cole is a Taipei-based journalist who focuses on military issues in Northeast Asia and in the Taiwan Strait. He previously served as an intelligence officer at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He is a regular contributor to The Diplomat's Flashpoints blog. You can follow him on Twitter: @jmichaelcole1

James Craven
September 18, 2013 at 11:35

Why don't you check out my website at http://jimcraven10.wordpress.com. I suggest that because under Tort Law for libel and defamation, I must first offer you evidence for you then to recklessly ignore, that your assertion that my native language is not English is an untruth, that I am in any way an "employee" of the PRC except as a Visiting Professor of Economics at Tsinghua University, CASS and Yunnan Universities is an untruth, that I am any kind of soc puppet or troll is an untruth and the fact is that I do not speak but am learning Chinese. Ihave been an activist against genocide, imperialism, fascism and for rights of Indigenous Peoples of which I am one non-stop since 1966. I am a Vetnam-era veteran of the U.S. Army and never have received a dime from any intelligence service U.S. Canadian or foreign. And here is some of the evidence for my assertions:




Sara H.
February 2, 2013 at 17:48

It’s always amusing to see the Chinese policy to attempt to control international discourse of China at play in the comments section of news articles critical of China.

“James Craven” as someone pointed out, is in fact a PRC employee, no doubt one of the small army of bloggers they employ to attempt to influence international discourse.

It’s quite obvious that he’s a sock puppet, for the PRC, though I congratulate “him” on “his” (if they are a “he” at all, who knows) on his English. He’s definitely better speaking it than some who have laughable grammer, but his logic, reasoning, rationale, and character are all the same as all the other PRC sock puppets.

Quite easy to spot. It’s kindof amusing actually.

November 9, 2012 at 21:48

You are welcome and here's another response: apparently you don't know or understand Early American history well. Spanish exploration and subsequent empire building by colonies occured in the 'Americas' (North, Central and South to include the Caribbean) by them and included Puerto Rico, Cuba, the later states of Florida, the southwest (AZ,NM,TX, CA) and more. So, by that, there is a 15th Century integration, albeit pre-dating the actual US but nonetheless a connection. Hence, why I indicated that the fictional CSA 'liberated' Cuba early as that did happen in 1898 (Spanish-American War in case you forgot) not the notional 1864.
The real linkage in my example is akin to the CSA playing the role of KMT and moving offshore to the closest island. CSA and USA are both as American as KMT and ChiComs under Mao were both Chinese.
I'm not claiming that the declared One China policy makes sense nor defend it. I do take umbrage with your rant statement on America now ("The point is the days of American blah blah blah.") as that indicates you place blame for all woes on Earth to a country less that 300 yrs old. How can such an historic lightweight have so much impact?
Would it be all the inventions, freedoms and discoveries that brought humanity out of (comparable to now) 'dark ages?'
Or maybe when Americans had to bail out numerous countries' finances or wars? Perhaps taking in so many immigrants, refugess and poor starving masses?
I agree, America should stop all that.
No more exporting technology, liberating oppressed peoples, taking in anyone else (closing the borders), providing loans, grants or foreign aid, exchanging scientists, students or anything. That would make humanity and all the Earth right again wouldn't it?

James Craven
November 4, 2012 at 09:08

I am reminded from the passage from Alice in Wonderland:
"When use a word Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean neither more nor less.
"The question is said Alice, whether one can make a word mean so many different things."
The question is, said Humpty Dumpty, which is to be master, that's all."
All over the world, America's imperial hubris and impotence has been exposed. The rebellions in the "Arab Spring" are not against regimes that were installed, protected, armed, trained and promoted by China but by the U.S. some of which,  like Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, were also destinations for Extraordinary Renditions to do torture prohibited by U.S. law. So imperial power no longer confers the power to define, like the master, truth, democracy, freedom, free enterprise, terrorism, and the like. The same with the words "One China" that have reral and concrete meaning. It is not logically or legally possible, in international law, to recognize "One Nation", and the Government of that "One Nation" and yet arm, train, conduct intelligence, and deploy periodic sabotage and terror campaigns against the mainland portion of that "One Nation" with forces operating from another, forcibly separated and occupied  part of that "One Nation". Theis is no matter which that "One Nation" is.
And how will the U.S. "defend" Taiwan? How is that fiscal cliff,  hopey changey and America uber alles  thing going for America right now? Since Korea, American forces have been sent packing, far short of any articulated strategic or tactical objectives when they bothered to have any,  in Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and a bunch of places kept covert mostly. The costs in blood and treasure still mount and the blowbacks from CIA social systems engineering campaigns in Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Korea, Cuba and so many other places are still coming back to roost and haunt the U.S. and its allies from the past to the present to the future.  And all the macho bravado, imperial bluster, American exclusivism, exceptionalism, triumphalism, unilateralism, preemption and the like will not save any decaying empire from itself and its own overreach and hubris.
Check this out from Romney that has some 47% support and not one person caught him on it; this is called Romnography or the new geography and shows how illiterate and ignorant, with such certitude projected, they are:
“Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea. It’s the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally, Israel. And so seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us.” (Mitt Romney, presidential debate, October 23, 2012)
Any problem with this? Here is a Stanford and Harvard "education" at work:

Basic Geography (apparently not covered at Harvard)

The Islamic Republic of Iran has an extensive maritime coastline bordering onto the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea.

Iran is an ally of Syria but it does not have a border with Syria.

For Iran’s commodity trade to reach the Mediterranean by land through Syria would require transit through Iraq (under US military occupation) and/or Turkey, a US ally and NATO stronghold.

Epic Fail, D+ Romney has a degree from Harvard. So much for University standards and the superiority of American education.

James Craven
November 4, 2012 at 00:17

Thanks for the response except in your modified analogy with Cuba as Taiwan, Cuba was never an integral part of America since at least the 16th century and widely recognized as so as is Taiwan whose historical name was Liu Qiu. Secondly, America did not have foreign imperal powers trying to install a Confederate Regime with no real mass support, and composed of people who had been more collaborators with and/or weak resistance against invading forces than against them.
The point I was making in my analogy is that it is illogical and worse to claim a One China or One America poilicy on the one hand, and then presume to recognize and trade with an entity that claims to be a separate and legitimate entity representing a part of but not all of America or China or whatever. The point is the days of American exclusivism, triumphalism, exceptionalism, unilateralism, pre-emptionism, universalism and old-fashioned imperialism not only America cannot afford fiscally, but are numbered by a multi-polar world that will not tolerate American imperal bullying because the planet and humanity cannot survive it. 

James Craven
November 4, 2012 at 00:04

Please deal with the FACTS (from declassified and leaked U.S. documents not intneded to be released or seen when written). I could add my father's own experiences flying 94 missions against Japanese forces in China and Burma with the 14th Air Force successor to the Flying Tigers. Deal with the FACTS.
The FACT is that in China, as in Vietnam and elsewhere, Japanese forces were rearmed and turned into garrison police against communists who had been allies of the U.S. and its allies against the Japanese. The FACT is that top-level Japanese war criminals from Unit 731 and the like (as were German war criminals)  were given immunity and placed in high level positions in government, the keiretsu, the Yakuza, and CIA in return for turning over their vile "research" on ABC (atomic, biological chemical) weapons using lives subjects including American POWs. The FACT is that the U.S. even then recognized Taiwan (Liu Qiu) as an integral and historic part of China, as it did also Tibet and Xinjiang, and you cannot as a matter of simple logic have a "One China Policy" on the one hand and cut separate deals with a runaway regime occupying Taiwan, against the wishes of the Government of China no matter what one feels about that government. The FACT is that social systems engineering campaigns aimed against China and other socialist social formations were and are intended to engineer the "proof" of the supposed inferiority and barbarism of socialism relative to capitalism  by putting the target social formation under siege such that large sums and resources must be diverted from development into defense and martial law like postures are generated as in most societies that perceive themselves under siege (e.g. U.S. under Patriot Law or under suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War). The FACT is that the KMT and Chiang Kai Shek were seen by many ground-level U.S. forces in their internal documents as corrupt fascists and thugs and the FACT is that the only really indigenous Taiwanese were slaughtered by KMT forces between 1946 and 1949 according to the U.S. Governments own internal reports. And the FACT is that those who employ empty ad hominem are those who typically lack  the intellect, facts, experience and guts for a rational exchanges of diverse points of view and supporting evidence for them.
For another view of history: http://www.4thmedia.org/2012/10/28/why-it-matters-calling-treating-china-as-adversary-matters-to-the-us-the-world-and-to-china/

November 1, 2012 at 06:04

4th media manages to be even worse than PRC state media. Congratulations to the perfectly named Mr Craven.

October 31, 2012 at 22:13

Mr. Craven,
Your attempt at an analogy would be more historically (and conjecturely) correct if you were to suppose that the Confederate States of America (CSA) did not surrender at Appomattox in 1865 but rather fought a receding defensive battleline southward into Florida during 1864 (as in not remaining fixed defending VA and not allowing Sherman to cut off that state) then managing to force passage through the Union blockade and transport the maximum combat power and political structure of the CSA to Cuba. Although the former CSA states would revert back to Union control, the CSA apparatus would remain intact, viable and defended on Cuba.
There would be a 'One America,' the continental US and then there would be the CSA occupying the previous Spanish possession of Cuba ("liberating" it early). And that would be the situation until either the Spanish Armada arrived (and probably promptly sunk), the US invaded or the Cubans revolted.

October 31, 2012 at 15:07

Let’s put the shoe on the right foot James: By comparing the ROC Government and the Taiwanese people to a racist, secessionist group in Alaska shows that you don’t have the slightest understanding or concern for Taiwan or its people. The U.S. is not training, nor would the Taiwanese people engage in murder and mayhem against the PRC. If anything, the PRC is acting like a terrorist regime by aiming over 2,000 ballistic missiles at the people of Taiwan. Go study some history and you’ll see that the ROC was around before the PRC.

October 31, 2012 at 14:59

If Alaskans want indepedence, they should get it.  You are totally ignoring the fact that areas like Quebec in Canada, or Scotland in the UK are either currently promoting independence or have done so in the past.  Notice how their national governments aren't going insane over the idea.  Likewise, China should realize that if its regions want independence, that should be granted.  China will be stronger because of it.
You are also ignoring the fact that China, and communism in general, isn't some idea that rose up from the masses and empowers them.  It was a philosophy used to con poor people into supporting a new, more aggressive form of dictatorship than the world had ever seen before.
China had a chance to draw all of Asia into its orbit during the disaster that was the US invasion of Iraq.  Instead, it squandered all that soft power by claiming the entire South China Sea as its own, and picking fights with every surrounding nation over uninhabited rocks.  I fail to see how China is more mature and responsible than anyone else.

Arthur Borges
October 31, 2012 at 14:53

Espionage is part of everybody's game; the Mainland and Taiwanese economies are already operating as a single unit and that means lots of information moving in both directions, which is ultimately reassuring to both governments.

James Craven
October 31, 2012 at 03:59

How about if the shoe were on the other foot? What if one of the over 200 secessionist groups in the U.S., say the white supremacist "Republic of Alaska" group manged to take over the Government of the State of Alaska as they intend, and declares a supposed "Republic of Alaska". Suppose China arms, trains, deploys and controls these secessionist forces and even proposes this ROA as a member of the UN or even goes so far as to propose this ROA as the only "legitimate" representative of all of America and all while proclaiming a "One America" policy. Suppose China trained guerilla forces on Chinese soil. say in areas of China that resemble the topgraphy of parts of America, armed them, deployed them, covered-up for them as they comiitted sabotage, inflaming ethnic conflicts, murder, mayhem all while China set up bases in Mexico, Canada, Alaska encircling America and also isolating America from the community of nations all because America chose a capitalist system as most appropriate for America rather than socialism. How about if China helped wanted war criminals against America escape and wind up in high level political positions in allies of China in return for their "scientific findings" from using American POWs for human experiments.
For another view of history: http://www.4thmedia.org/2012/10/28/why-it-matters-calling-treating-china-as-adversary-matters-to-the-us-the-world-and-to-china/

Michael Turton
October 30, 2012 at 17:09

The story is that the visa free decision was the result of Taipei's decision to permit imports of US beef, which it had been blocking, ostensibly due to the use of ractopamine and the threat of mad cow. 

Leonard R.
October 30, 2012 at 15:54

The US has a role to play with Taiwan. It should allow Taiwanese citizens whose futures are adversely affected by unification to resettle in the US. America bears some responsibility for this problem. It asked these people to stake their futures on western-style government. America needs to be a big part of the solution. But giving Taiwan sensitive technology is not a solution. It's another problem in the making.

Leonard R.
October 30, 2012 at 15:46

This is excellent analysis by the author.
"Doubly damaging to Taiwan’s reputation and defense cooperation with the U.S. is the fact that in either scenario, Taipei is damned: Failure to arrest spies supports the view that a large chunk of ice, filled with traitors, lies underwater, eating away at the nation’s defenses; conversely, arrests often serve as bad publicity for the armed forces, providing “confirmation” to those who have called on Washington to cease its defense cooperation with the island that its defense apparatus is penetrated to the core."
Maybe that's what Chinese communists mean when they talk about a "win-win" foreign policy.

October 29, 2012 at 23:27

So, what does the US do?  Like the article says, it seems like they are screwed either way.  I guess the best course is to continue with military support, but limit it to tier-2 equipment only.  Too many leaks to sell stuff like the F-35.
Also, how does this play out with the recent decision to give visa-free access to Taiwanese tourists visiting the US?

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