Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Intelligence treason in the making

The systematic efforts by our government, uncovered by this newspaper last week, to keep secret a visit by a top Chinese security official last month raise questions that go far beyond secrecy and involve matters pertaining to the very nature of our society.

Though alarming in itself, it is not unusual for senior security officials from different countries to meet behind closed doors. In some cases, such meetings even involve cooperation with countries that have poor human rights records. In the “war” against terrorism launched after Sept. 11, for example, Western intelligence agencies began working closely — and secretly — with their counterparts in pariah states like Pakistan, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Controversial — and at times disastrous — though this cooperation may have been, there are fundamental differences between that type of cooperation and what is developing between Taipei and Beijing. For one, it involves countries that recognize each other. Also, there are independent, institutionalized oversight mechanisms in democratic systems that ensure a certain degree of transparency, which plays a crucial role when operations involve intelligence sharing with repressive regimes.

In the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was deported from the US and tortured by Syrian security officials, oversight and a subsequent inquiry helped expose the controversy, shamed Canadian authorities and made it more difficult for similar mistakes to be repeated.

Cooperation with China on cross-strait crime fighting, ostensibly the purpose of the visit by Chinese Vice Minister of Public Security Chen Zhimin (陳智敏), is not overly worrying. What makes the visit so problematic, rather, is the context in which it happened, at a time when the credibility of oversight mechanisms under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), beginning with the judiciary, are now under question. It is also occurring at a time when Beijing is intensifying its campaign against Taiwan, seemingly with the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) acquiescence.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

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