Chinese espionage against Taiwan, the self-ruled, democratic island claimed by Beijing as a “breakaway” province awaiting “re-unification,” has kept intelligence experts awake at night for decades. People have long worried about aggressive espionage by China’s intelligence apparatus and leaks by members of Taiwan’s armed forces. Now according to the island’s top intelligence chief, we have something else to fear: Government agencies giving loads of confidential information to the Chinese — for free.
Even as relations improved between the two sides following the election of President Ma Ying-jeou of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in 2008, collection by China’s civilian and military intelligence agencies targeting the island, as well as cyber intrusions, never subsided. While it would seem contradictory — and perhaps counterproductive — for Beijing to maintain an aggressive intelligence posture against the island amid warming ties, China’s multifaceted approach to Taiwan, a mix of incentives and threats, explains why. Furthermore, as growing economic and cultural ties have yet to yield political dividends for China in terms of making unification likelier, Beijing is keen on obtaining as detailed a picture of its opponent as possible should the day come when rulers in Zhongnanhai decide that non-peaceful means are necessary to resolve the issue once and for all.
Chinese intelligence has therefore been unrelenting in its espionage against Taiwan, cultivating sources in Taiwan’s military and within its open society, to which it now enjoys unprecedented access thanks to relaxed rules on investment, visits, and tourism. According to government statistics, almost 3 million Chinese tourists visited Taiwan in 2013, accounting for a whopping 36 percent of the 8 million arrivals that year. Evidence suggests that a number of Chinese tourists who enter Taiwan ostensibly for tourism purposes are “directed” by Chinese intelligence agencies. According to legislators from Taiwan’s opposition, 784 Chinese have overstayed their visas. If we add Chinese who enter the country illegally, the total is well above 1,000. A fraction of them is assumed to be engaging in intelligence operations.