Taiwan charges retired air force colonel with spying for China

Lawrence Chung

A retired Taiwanese military officer has been accused of spying for the mainland with less than a month to go in a presidential election on the island dogged by claims of interference by Beijing.

Tu Yung-hsin, 67, a retired air force colonel, was charged by the New Taipei City District Prosecutor’s Office with violating the island’s security law by spying and helping develop an intelligence network for Beijing in Taiwan, the office said on Tuesday.

The charges follow raids in September by the Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau on Tu’s home and that of a Taiwanese army colonel identified only by his surname Tsai.

After retiring and operating a business on the mainland in 2004, Tu was allegedly recruited by “Mr A” a section chief of the Central Military Commission’s Political Work Department.

The office said that between 2011 and September this year, Tu offered cash-strapped Tsai about NT$200,000 (US$6,600) in gifts for his wedding and to cover medical treatment for his mother.

“In 2017, the suspect told Tsai he could introduce him to ‘Mr A’ and arrange for Tsai to develop business in China after he retired,” a spokesman for the office said.

Tu allegedly told Tsai that all he had to do at the time was recruit other potential spies to help develop an intelligence network in Taiwan.

“In 2018, before the suspect went to China to meet ‘Mr A’, [Tu] asked Tsai to record a video of himself saying that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait were bound to reunify in the future and, in the event of war, he would not follow any of the Taiwanese military authorities’ orders and he would comply with the motherland’s instructions to show his loyalty to China,” the spokesman said.

Tsai refused and returned all the gifts and money to Tu, the spokesman said, adding that Tsai secretly recorded the conversation with Tu.

A conviction on the charges carries a jail sentence of up to 10 years under changes to the island’s National Intelligence Service Act.

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The charges come weeks after Taiwanese prosecutors barred two senior executives from Hong Kong-listed China Innovation Investment from leaving the island over spying allegations.

Xiang Xin, the company’s executive director, and his wife Gong Qing, a director, were stopped at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport late last month while trying to leave the island.

In Taipei on Tuesday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking a second term, accused mainland authorities of repeatedly employing various means to try to sabotage the island’s security and stability.

“Through a diplomatic squeeze, military intimidation and political infiltration, [mainland] China has persistently tried to attack our morale and marginalise our sovereignty … We must unite and never yield an inch to uphold our territorial integrity and freedom and democracy,” Tsai said.

Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that must return to the mainland fold, by force if necessary.

It has suspended official exchanges with Taiwan since Tsai was first elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.

Both the Taiwanese and US governments have accused Beijing of trying to influence the island’s presidential election to prevent Tsai from being re-elected.

Buoyed by a campaign on sovereignty, Tsai is leading her opposition challengers – populist Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang, and People First Party chairman James Soong Chu-yu, by more than 20 percentage points according to various opinion polls.

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