1999 / 4月
Marlene Chen /tr. by Jonathan Barnard
Wen Ho Lee, the Taiwan-born US citizen who has been accused of spying in America for mainland China, isn't the only spy in the news. Recently Taiwanese businessmen who live or frequently travel to mainland China have likewise fallen under suspicion for espionage. Some have been sentenced to terms in ROC or PRC prisons, others merely questioned and searched. In addition to raising the question of whether the basic human and property rights of tens of thousands of Taiwan businessmen with operations in mainland China are under threat, these cases have also thrust these businessmen under the spotlight on both sides of the strait for their role in intelligence gathering.
On the morning of March 16, Wang Hsu-tien was bound for Hong Kong, where he would transfer for a plane to Xiamen. In ROC customs, he was questioned and given a thorough body search. Angered by what he claimed were unfair accusations, he returned to Taiwan on March 18 and issued a public statement.
He was just a businessman who cared about Taiwan, he said, and had only gotten into trouble because he loved to talk. The rumors that he is a spy had done him great harm. Furthermore, he pointed out that the Ministry of Justice leaked information to the media, whereas under law they were prohibited from discussing cases under investigation.
Because agents from the Investigation Bureau did not find any secret documents hidden on his person, some observers are calling the incident one big mistake. Yet Investigation Bureau Director Chang Fu-hsiung explained that agents only decided to make the search after collecting extensive evidence, and if it turns out that Wang Hsu-tien is not a spy after all, then the bureau will issue an apology.
We can only wait and see if such an apology is forthcoming. Legislator Chou Hsi-wei has criticized the Investigation Bureau for making an espionage arrest at a sensitive time, when Li Yafei, deputy secretary-general of the PRC's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), was preparing to visit Taiwan. When the mainland is catching Taiwanese businessmen as alleged spies, Chou wonders why the ROC is also going after Taiwan businessmen instead of trying to catch spies from mainland China.
Chang Fu-hsiung stresses that under law the Investigation Bureau cannot be influenced by political factors, and that it is quite plausible that the mainland has recruited Taiwan businessmen to work as spies. But just how many businessmen have fallen under suspicion for spying and how many have been unjustly set up? Meanwhile, there were several cases involving Taiwanese businessmen allegedly spying on the PRC that were in the news in March.
Early in the month, the family of Sha Ming-chu, assisted by legislator Li Chin-hua, informed Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) that they had not heard from Sha since he was arrested in the mainland over a year before. After SEF delivered their letter of inquiry to ARATS, a response that came on March 11 stated that Sha Ming-chu was spying on mainland China for the Taiwan military. It noted that he had been convicted at the end of 1997, and was currently serving a sentence of 14 years. When questioned about the Sha case by legislators, Minister of Defense Tang Fei denied that Sha was a spy.
Lin Hsin-hung, another Taiwan businessman, was arrested for spying by the Communist authorities in March of last year and was given a sentence of ten years. Accompanied by DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-lang, Lin's wife Li Jun, who has mainland citizenship, held a press conference in Taipei on March 5.
Another Taiwan businessman, Kou Chien-ming, was arrested in Beijing in March of last year and was sentenced to four years. Yuen Tai-lung, formerly Kou's lawyer, believes that the Chinese communists monitor suspects for several months, and then sentence those whom they believe to be directly involved with military spying to 10 to 15 years in jail.
Currently, the SEF has processed 16 espionage cases involving a total of 22 Taiwan businessmen. SEF director Hsu Hui-yu argues that after ten years of travel across the strait, the mainland shouldn't sour cross-strait relations by making poorly founded accusations of espionage. At the same time, he notes that when Taiwan detains PRC citizens, in accordance with law, it always informs the mainland, yet the mainland shows no such willingness to inform Taiwan. He hopes that the mainland will respect legal procedures and establish a system for trials and visiting prisoners, and not just cavalierly detain people.
The High Court of Taiwan ruled on March 11 that in accordance with Article 111 of the ROC Penal Code, Taiwan businessman Chang Ming-ho had been collecting national security secrets and was guilty of espionage. Two years ago, Chang approached Pan Sheng-jen, an assistant to Legislator Chu Kao-cheng, and attempted to bribe him to acquire copies of the budgets for national defense and foreign relations. Then, under Pan's prodding, Chang turned himself in. Because legislative assistants have easy access to budget review materials, the mainland targets them as potential sources of information.
Tsai Ming-hsien, the whip of the DPP legislative caucus, believes that military secrets are easy to obtain in the Legislative Yuan, and that the executive order on "Standards for Military Secrets" is of little help in deciding what information should be kept secret. He notes that the military budget has very secret information, but that even office boys and janitors have access to copies of it.
Three years ago the Ministry of Justice prepared a draft of a "National Secrets Protection Law" that the legislature has yet to pass. The absence of just such a law is at the root of the problem. As for those Taiwan businessmen caught in the cross-strait cross-fire of espionage charges, protecting themselves and keeping their loved ones from living in fear for their safety is at the top of their personal agendas.