Monday, November 23, 2009

The dumpling soup incident

I don’t want to belabor the topic of Chinese tourists in Taiwan, but something I witnessed during lunch today compels me to revisit the subject, if only so briefly. Eating my shrimp dumpling noodle soup and absorbed in Jay Taylor’s biography of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), my attention was suddenly drawn to a trio of people — one aged man and two mid-aged women — speaking louder than usual. From his accent, I could tell that the man was from China. Had their behavior been limited to the usual loudness with which Chinese carry a conversation, I would have written them off and continued on with my meal.

The real problems started when they got up to pay. I eat at that restaurant all the time and know its staff pretty well; the waitress who process their bill is a good-natured and soft-spoken lady in her late thirties. When one of the women started raising her voice and arguing with the waitress (with the man looming not far behind), and when another young waiter joined in the discussion, I knew something was wrong. The whole scene must have lasted five minutes, whereupon the trip departed in a hurry.

When my turn came to pay, I asked the waitress the obvious — that is, whether they were Chinese, and what the problem was. As it turns out, they were Chinese and didn’t want to pay the total amount of the bill, arguing that they’d run out of Taiwanese currency. This is hard to believe, given that there were three of them and the place isn’t exactly expensive (I had lunch there with my mother and aunt a couple of weeks ago for NT$240). The likelier scenario is that the Chinese were once again showing their arrogance and treating Taiwanese like second-rate citizens — in their own country.

Rather than create a scene or call the police, the waitress played the ever-so-kind Taiwanese and paid the difference using her own money, slightly shaking her head as she closed her purse.

This is a minor, thought I’m sure not isolated incident. It makes me wonder, though, if, as cross-strait investment and economic activity intensifies through financial MOUs and an ECFA, Chinese will not also try to cheat their Taiwanese counterparts out of their money, this time on a much grander scale.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Did the DPP fall into a US beef trap?

The expediency with which the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration announced it was lifting a partial ban on US beef imports — and the predictable response this engendered from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — raises questions about the government’s intent that go well beyond food safety issues. National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi’s (蘇起) admission that “poor communication” marred the announcement is insufficient to dispel doubts that the move by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-led executive branch was a strategy to further undermine the DPP’s already strained relations with the US.

We must remember that a major aspect of Ma’s platform during his election campaign last year was his vow to “repair” relations between Taipei and Washington, which many KMT members — including Su — said had been “damaged” by eight years of DPP administration under president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

Part of that logic, which often ignores the fact that many of the so-called irritants caused by the DPP administration were the result of the KMT’s antics in the legislature, dovetails with the well-cultivated image of the KMT as “rational” and less likely to turn to populist devices such as the DPP-led anti-US beef demonstrations over the weekend.

While the protests were not solely the affair of the DPP, they have nevertheless become associated with the party, mostly as a result of DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and former presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), among others, leading them and making speeches.

The KMT’s calculations were perfect, as it knew fully well that the DPP could not pass an opportunity to turn an otherwise apolitical issue into a political one. Even if, this time around, the DPP did put food safety first in organizing the protests, its long tradition of thinking solely about the next elections is such that doubts can linger about its honesty on the matter.

The Executive Yuan has now yielded to the pressure and claims that it will recommend additional screening measures that, in theory, will make it more difficult for US beef to enter the Taiwanese market. However, despite this about-face, it will be able to turn to Washington and claim that it had no choice in the matter and that the DPP is to blame for the “unfortunate” turn of events. By dint of repetition over the years, former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director Steven Young clearly highlighted that US beef has political undertones and is an important issue in Washington. In fact, it may serve as a yardstick by which to gauge the quality of relations between the US and Taiwan.

Back in the US, among beef-producing states and lobby organizations that have pressured AIT directors into insisting that the ban be lifted — and where understanding of domestic politics in Taiwan is limited — the main culprit for the reversal will, expectedly, be the DPP. As a result, the opposition’s image could be further tarnished, serving as proof that the DPP is, as the KMT has claimed, against trade and always a thorn in Washington’s side.

If Washington politicizes the matter and couples US beef with other issues such as arms sales, it would be easy for the KMT to blame the negative consequences on the DPP, which could have a significant impact on the opposition’s ability to regain seats in the legislature or the presidency in 2012. With this gambit, the KMT probably rightly assessed that the domestic political cost of failing to properly communicate its intention to lift the ban on US beef would be marginal, at least when contrasted with the long-term damage that could be caused to the DPP for spearheading the anti-US beef demonstrations. Even if the KMT had no such calculation, the DPP’s long history of organizing mass rallies for political gain could come back to haunt it.

Another possible outcome, this one perhaps desired by more pro-China KMT members, is the alienation of the US and the continuation of rapprochement with Beijing. Under such a strategy, the political cost domestically and electoral considerations have far less weight than widening the wedge between the US and Taiwan and, conversely, facilitating the drift toward China’s sphere of influence. If Washington were to overreact to a reversal by punishing Taiwan in other fields (arms sales, support for membership in international organizations and so on), the next logical step would be for Taiwan to turn to its newfound ally. Should this come to pass, the KMT could argue that it was abandoned by Washington, blame the DPP for the breakup, while achieving the objectives of pro-unification elements within the party.

If indeed it was a trap, it was a well-lain one. By failing to create a buffer between itself and the anti-US beef demonstrations and by playing its usual political games, the DPP fell into it and made it easier for the KMT to portray it as a troublemaker. In such a scenario, diplomacy would be urgently needed on the DPP’s part to mitigate any damage that its association with the protests may have caused to its image in Washington.

The trap also carries a second one — one that the US must avoid falling into. To avert a political disaster, Washington must decouple the beef issue from politics and treat it solely as an economic one. Should it fail to do so by politicizing the controversy and using it as justification for punishment, Washington could inadvertently realize the objective of some conservative KMT members whose ultimate objective is to undermine the US presence in the region and accelerate rapprochement between Taipei and Beijing.

It’s only beef, but by making it a political matter, both Washington and the DPP share the blame for turning it into a potential tie-breaker.

This article was published today in the Taipei Times.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What’s next, Chinese ‘patriotic’ education in Taiwan?

The Ministry of Education confirmed today that Taiwan could recognize Chinese diplomas obtained after 1997 as early as June next year, provided that the proposal is approved by the (KMT-controlled) legislature (meaning that it will).

The ministry plans to start by recognizing diplomas from 41 top Chinese universities — those that Beijing has poured more money into since 1985. Some of those academic institutions include Peking University, Tsinghua University, Tianjin University and Fudan University. Public universities would only be able to recruit Chinese graduate students, while private universities could recruit undergraduates.

Anyone who has read the paper “National Humiliation, History Education, and the Politics of Historical Memory: Patriotic Education Campaign in China” by Zheng Wang of Seton Hall University, published in International Studies Quarterly last year, would know that extra funding by Beijing most likely means more brainwashing in school curricula. If Jian Junbo (簡軍波), one of Fudan University’s top students, is any indication, products of that system never waver from the party line, not even after long exposure abroad — even in Western universities. (This is why, to use one example, so many Chinese students in the US supported Beijing when it cracked down in Tibet prior to the Olympics last year.)

The more Jians enter the school system in Taiwan, the more difficult it will be for Taiwanese students and professors to perpetuate their own historical discourse. The mix of chauvinism and strong nationalism that characterized the Chinese academics who spoke at forums in Taipei over the weekend — where they dictated and threatened, while exhibiting a total disinterest in learning from others — would also likely be present in those students, who from very early on have been fed a strong dose of CCP ideology and little else.

Another worry is that an influx of Chinese students embracing their own ideology would eventually result in strong demand for teachers from China, which could engender a process whereby Taiwanese teachers are slowly elbowed out — especially those who espouse a pro-independence line.

As Zheng and others have argued, schools play an important role in the formation of national identity. If the Chinese discourse is allowed to grow roots in Taiwanese schools — through students, curricula and perhaps professors — then Taiwanese identity will slowly be diluted, and future generations of Taiwanese will have little access to the material that, in their formative years, informs them about, and shapes, who they are.

Of course, all of this would be a different — and less worrying — thing if Chinese who come to Taiwan were actually keen on learning different opinions and bringing those new ideas back to China, in which case exchanges would be a positive development. But this isn’t the case, and the fault lies with the tremendous efforts at educational socialization that Beijing has made, starting in 1991, with its Patriotic Education Campaign.

Taiwan is under attack on many fronts. By opening up universities to Chinese students, a new beachhead could soon be stormed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Opposition voices absent from cross-strait forums

The government made no effort to invite voices from the opposition to a recent series of forums on cross-strait diplomacy, a former Taiwanese government official said yesterday.

Commenting on the sidelines of a forum on a cross-strait peace agreement at National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations (IIR), Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), former Mainland Affairs Council chairman, said agencies under President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration had failed to invite academics from the pan-green camp or former government officials to the forums, at which former Chinese Communist Party officials and Chinese academics were invited to speak.

“They had to invite me [this morning] because I’m a fellow here at the IIR,” Wu, the sole pan-green voice at the forum, told the Taipei Times, adding that the situation had been similar at a pair of forums held over the weekend to mark the 60th anniversary of cross-strait relations.

“[Chinese President] Hu Jintao’s [胡錦濤] confidant Zheng Bijian [鄭必堅] can come to Taipei and claim that the Taiwanese independence movement is doomed and some retired People’s Liberation Army general can threaten us the next day, but academics from the opposition are not invited,” Wu said.

When the Democratic Progressive Party was in power, we always made sure to invite those from the other camp to such events, he said.

This one-sided debate is hardly conducive to the process that is required to build consensus on cross-strait matters, Wu said, adding that pro-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) academics had a tendency to mirror Ma’s “polite” approach to China, which involves no criticism of Beijing’s human rights record.

“Topics such as a peace agreement are very important and this is the first time that both sides discuss them openly,” Wu said.

Unfortunately, with opposition voices absent there is no plurality of voices and the Ma administration can give the impression that its policies are widely supported, he said.

Wu also said that the American Institute in Taiwan had not been informed about the forums, adding that this was reminiscent of the US government being kept in the dark during negotiations on Taiwan’s participation at the World Health Assembly earlier this year.

This story was published today in the Taipei Times.

I had lunch with Dr. Wu after the morning session of the forum at the IIR, during which we also touched on the DPP’s financial woes, which prevents its members from travelling abroad to share their views, and the government’s preventing visiting dignitaries from getting in touch with former DPP administration members or pan-green academics. Dr. Wu said that Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏) was setting up his own think tank, which could perhaps help the DPP make more contacts abroad.

Ultimately, however, Wu said that the only voice the Ma administration is likely to listen to is that of the US government, and he agreed with me that so far it has been easy for the KMT to ignore isolated foreign voices or the opposition in Taiwan.

Wu also mentioned that the government appeared to be scrutinizing former the finances of former DPP government officials for any financial irregularities or leaking of classified information to hang them with. “If I am not careful,” Wu said, “they could get me.”

It is always a delight to listen to Dr. Wu or to have conversation with him. His love and passion for Taiwan is undeniable, and he is very supportive of those who are willing to help out.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

‘Taiwan’s friend’ James Lilley passes away aged 81

James Lilley, American Institute in Taiwan director from 1981 to 1984, died in Washington on Thursday from complications related to prostate cancer. He was 81.

In his long career with the US government, Lilley also served as US ambassador to South Korea from 1986 to 1989, and to China from 1989 to 1991. Prior to entering the diplomatic field, Lilley worked at the CIA for 27 years, which he joined in 1951. His postings at the agency included China, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Laos, Taiwan, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

When the US opened its liaison office in Beijing in 1971, Lilley became the first “declared” US intelligence official in China and the CIA’s first station chief in the capital.

Lilley, who later also came to be known as Li Jieming (李潔明), was born in Qingdao, Shandong, in 1928, where his father and role model, Frank Lilley, worked as a salesman for Standard Oil.

In 2004, Lilley published his memoir China Hands, which eloquently described his formative childhood in China, his years as a CIA operative and the power struggles between China, Taiwan and the US, including his first-hand experience of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

After his ambassadorship in Beijing, Lilley became a forceful — and public — proponent of greater US support for Taiwan, efforts that he continued after being appointed assistant secretary of defense for international affairs from 1991 to 1993. He often clashed with the US Department of State over arms sales to Taiwan, arguing that it would be unwise to grant Beijing the cutoff date that it sought.

Expressing her condolences to the family on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called him “one of our nation’s finest diplomats.”

In its obituary, the Washington Post described Lilley as “one of the most pragmatic voices on the modern Sino-American relationship.”

In a statement on Friday, former US president George H.W. Bush, who was close to Lilley, described him as “a most knowledgeable and effective ambassador who served with great honor and distinction.”

On Saturday night, Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) said Lilley had made many contributions to and spoken for Taiwan’s interests.

“His death is Taiwan’s loss,” he said.

This article appeared in the Taipei Times on Nov. 15.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

‘Sorry, they’re Chinese’

On the eve of my relatives returning to Canada, I took them to one of my favorite northern Chinese cuisine restaurants in my neighborhood, a place that offers great variety and succulence. No sooner had we seated ourselves than a burst of laughter and loud conversation emanated from a table behind us. So intense was the noise that all three of us turned around to look. Throughout the meal, the same ear-splitting talk would shatter the otherwise calm ambiance in the restaurant, prompting our kind waitress to apologize profusely.

When I paid the bill, the lady said, rolling her eyes: Dui bu qi, tamen shi zhongguo ren. “Sorry, they’re Chinese.”

Indeed. Loud, disrespectful and chauvinistic. In our three weeks of travel, we ran into many of them. At the National Palace Museum, making it a point to touch every object bearing a “do not touch” sign or putting their hands on the windows, forcing a poor museum employee to follow them like shadow with her cloth and Windex, often shaking her head in dismay. At Sun Moon Lake, busloads of them careening down the narrow roads, roaring as if the world belonged to them.

Before returning home this evening, my aunt wanted to go to a Duty Free shop in Minquan Road, a spot that I know is a favorite of tour operators. Sure enough, a whole group of Chinese was there, their ID cards — and thick Chinese — identifying them as such. Again, they were loud, loud as if they’d never seen a shopping mall in their lives. In their haggling with vendors, they were aloof and often impolite.

As the good taxi driver told me in Kaohsiung last week, we like their money. But what an unpleasant experience it is to be around them. Is it worth it? What will it be like if — and when — they are allowed to travel alone rather than in groups? What if, at some point, they were allowed to rent cars? Would they bring the same type of chaos to Taiwan that drives my good friend Steve crazy whenever he travels to China for business?

I have nothing against Chinese per se, no underlying aversion to their people based on genetics. Rather, my problem with many of them is their social behavior, which is very revealing of the society and system in which they are brought up.

The diplomat in me usually wins over the temptation to turn to them and scream a good Taiwan jiayou! or Yi bian, yi guo at them. I don’t. Steve would have. Maybe I will.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


My interest of late has been the question of whether rapprochement between Taiwan and China would result in an erosion of freedoms in Taiwan — in other words, whether “peace” would come at the price of that for which Taiwanese spilled blood and time to accomplish after 40 years of authoritarian rule. Recent experiences with Taiwanese movies partly produced with Chinese money, or the disregard that the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration has shown for different opinions regarding ties with China or the signing of an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China are indications that closer relations will come at a price, which democracy heavyweight Peng Ming-min (彭明敏) highlighted in a recent article. Increased Chinese investment in Taiwanese companies and further involvement in the cultural sector can only exacerbate this development.

It is therefore important that people in Taiwan and supporters of Taiwan as a free, democratic society fully comprehend the extent of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) control over information and its unflinching repression of any view that does not dovetail with its vision. As I have written before, China has little compunction in imposing its views, even in other countries, as we witnessed in Melbourne earlier this year. Still, borders serve to mitigate its actions and it will not go all out to repress opinions in countries like Australia, the US or Canada. That it sees Taiwan as part of China, however, means that this buffer of sovereignty does not exist and that it will not hesitate to exert in Taiwan the pressures it has so successfully implemented at home to control its citizens.

The China: Resilient, Sophisticated Authoritarianism report, written by Joshua Kurlantzick and Perry Link for the Undermining Democracy: 21st Century Authoritarians project by Freedom House, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia, provides a good start in understanding the extent of the CCP’s control measures.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Simplified, empty and too close

With relatives visiting Taiwan, I had the opportunity to leave my desk — the closest thing to the ivory tower in the world of journalism — and to visit, or revisit, many parts of the country. Unable to entirely shed my political skin, even on vacation I kept an eye out for Chinese tourists, their impact, and how the locals were reacting to them. Here are some brief observations on the subject.

Sun Moon Lake is, unsurprisingly, becoming increasingly commercialized. This is the age-old double-edged sword of tourism, where a balance must be struck between attracting tourists and keeping the environment as unchanged as possible. As we went there on a week day, there weren’t too many people around, but I can imagine that weekends would be a nightmare. On my first visit there two years ago, merchants were not overly aggressive in peddling their wares, but were more so this time around. Some stores now had signs in simplified Chinese, which I found a little unsettling. Anyone who knows of the substance “Ice-nine” in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat's Cradle would know where my fear comes from.

While in Kaohsiung, we went to the Liuhe Night Market and enjoyed great food, good deals and a much-needed foot massage after all this walking. The city was stunningly quiet — even the beautiful Love River waterfront, where we rented a villa-style apartment. Again, it was a weekday, but the contrast with Taipei was disturbing. It is hard to entirely attribute the situation to the Chinese boycott of southern cities, however, for surely before Chinese first began visiting Taiwan, tourists from other countries were going to the port city. A friendly cab driver (as always, the greatest source for intelligence on what’s going on anywhere) told us that there was some friction between local vendors and Chinese tourists and that some vendors in night markets no longer bothered to open their stalls as a result. Apparently, some Chinese tourists had a habit of poking food without buying anything (anyone who knows anything about stinky tofu knows that poking a hole in the crust ruins the whole thing). Asked for people’s impression of Chinese visitors to the city, the driver could not have been more blunt: “we like their money.”

After a delightful rest at the White Hotel in Kending and two days on the beach, we took the train from Fangliao, Pingtung County, and snaked our way along the mountainous east coast to Hualien, passing by such ill-fated stations as Sanmin Village, which suffered catastrophic devastation during Typhoon Morakot. The next day, after visiting the awe-inspiring Taroko National Park, our driver took us to the beach at Chishingtan, which is famous for its marble stones and is located right next to the Hualien Air Force base. Putting myself in the shoes of a Chinese spy, I could not help but be struck by how close we were to the base — at some points less than 100 meters, and only separated by a 7-foot concrete wall. We could see the F-16s on the tarmac as they taxied before takeoff and had a perfect view as they roared above our heads. 

While the aircraft are stored in inaccessible mountains, the opportunities for espionage — or sabotage — nevertheless remain. Discussing the matter with our driver, she told me that people caught taking pictures of the base are immediately told not to do so, a line of defense that might work with ordinary tourists but that is far for sufficient to deter determined individuals trained in the art of espionage. The proximity may have been acceptable when only Taiwanese or non-belligerents were visiting the beach, but today, with thousands of Chinese coming to the area, something will have to be done to increase security and create the buffer required to prevent intelligence-gathering, intrusions, and sabotage. 

Given that in time of war the F-16s would be Taiwan’s first line of defense in ensuring air superiority in the Taiwan Strait, it is obvious that more should be done to protect the aircraft and the base. Doing so would also demonstrate to the US government that the Ministry of National Defense is serious about defending the nation and preventing advanced US technology from falling into the hands of the People’s Liberation Army through theft. Such reassurances (though in themselves not sufficient) could make it easier for Washington to continue supplying Taiwan the weapons it needs to defend itself.

Having once again the chance to visit Taiwan from north to south, west to east, I was struck by the beauty of the country, its richness of life and people and ingenuity, as well as the kindness, openness and liberty with which people carry on with their lives. From ceremonies marking the opening of an electoral office in Puli, Nantou County, to Aborigines selling traditional food and performing traditional dances in the heart of Taipei on the weekend, all reinforced my conviction that this country deserves the attention of the international community and that its sovereignty must be preserved at any cost. 

One thing is certain: As a result of everything they’ve seen on this trip and how hospitable Taiwanese have been to them, Taiwan now counts two new goodwill ambassadors who will return home to Canada with news that Taiwan is, undeniably, a magnificent place.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Investors, bankers, soldiers, spies

Following my presentation on Chinese espionage at National Chengchi University’s just-opened MacArthur Center for Security Studies on Oct. 15, a member of the audience asked a question that has stayed with me and probably deserves elaboration on the short answer I provided at the time.

“Once relations between Taiwan and China improve,” asked a young man — an undergraduate exchange student from Dongguan, Guangdong Province — “do you think Beijing might, given the importance of the relationship for the Chinese Communist Party [CCP], decrease espionage activity against Taiwan?”

My answer was that regardless of how important Beijing sees its relationship with other countries, its collecting of intelligence continues unabated. In fact, while there is no arguing that China’s most important bilateral relationship is with the US (and increasingly so), the Chinese intelligence apparatus continues to engage in Cold War-style espionage, targeting the government, the military and the high-tech sector in the US. There is, therefore, no inverse correlation between the quality of the relationship and the breadth of espionage activity.

Capability of the People’s Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation, a report released on Oct. 22 by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said that the Chinese government is ratcheting up its cyberspying operations against the US, using, as the Wall Street Journal wrote the same day, “a carefully orchestrated campaign against one US company that appears to have been sponsored by Beijing.”

In Canada, the then-director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Jim Judd, told a Senate committee meeting in May 2007 that “China accounts for close to 50 percent of our counter-intelligence program.”

A former Public Security Bureau official in Shenyang, Han Guansheng (韓廣生), who defected to Canada in 2001, has stated publicly that Beijing handles informants in Canada’s Chinese community and gathers intelligence on key economic areas.

Chen Yonglin (陳用林), a former Chinese political consul who defected to Australia on June 4, 2005, told the Toronto Star in June 2007 that “China has a huge network of secret agents and it is working hard to influence governments.”

He also told Australian authorities that Beijing had been overseeing a network of more than 1,000 spies and informers in Australia.

Hao Fengjun (郝鳳軍), a second defector in Australia who is believed to have been a low-level intelligence official, has confirmed that China has more spies in Canada than in any other country.

The UK’s Daily Telegraph reported in July 2005 that a Chinese intelligence defector in Belgium, who had worked at European universities and companies for more than a decade, gave the Surete de l’Etat, Belgium’s security service, detailed information on hundreds of Chinese spies working at various levels of European industry.

Oftentimes, even private Chinese firms that engage in what is ostensibly “pure” industrial espionage are found to have links to the Chinese government, as was the case with the Shenzhen-based company Chitron, which violated US defense export regulations and engaged in money laundering. US federal authorities recently established that Chitron’s main customer was the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, which conducts research, development and manufacturing of missiles and rockets.

Apart from its reliance on traditional spies such as academics, diplomats and journalists, China appears to be using private or semi-private companies to conduct espionage abroad. Because many Chinese firms have former CCP officials on the company board or are partly financed by state-owned banks, many can serve as conduits for intelligence gathering. Back in August 2003, a report by the Asia-Pacific Post said that some 3,500 Chinese spy companies, or fronts, had been identified operating in Canada and the US alone, a number that can only have grown in the past six years.

The US, Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia — all are key partners in China’s economic rise. And yet the espionage continues. Despite denials by Beijing, dozens of reports by various countries show that China’s spying is not only becoming more common, but also more refined.


Based on these precedents, my answer to the Chinese student — one of about 30 currently studying for one semester at Chengchi — was that warm relations or not, Chinese espionage in Taiwan would likely continue.

What I should have added was that China’s espionage in other countries, aggressive though it may be, is mitigated by considerations of sovereignty. In other words, China is aware that it is operating in countries over which it has no claim of sovereignty, and this acts as a deterrent, forcing it to limit its activity to prevent overreach.

Taiwan, on the other hand, is a different story, because Beijing claims it as its own. As such, any consideration of sovereignty that applies to countries in which China conducts espionage and which acts as a deterrent against overly aggressive intelligence collection would not, in theory, apply to Taiwan.

Put differently, as China sees Taiwan as a domestic problem like Tibet, Xinjiang or rights activists, it would have no compunction in using the full array of espionage capabilities it has at its disposal to steal economic and military secrets or collect information on “dissidents” — that is, the independence movement or those who oppose unification.

Given that Beijing’s No. 1 domestic priority is stability, it has not refrained from using the full weight of its security apparatus to monitor and repress entire groups of people, arresting dissidents, shutting down law firms, banning publications and monitoring Internet communications. All of this has accelerated under Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).

Once China gets its foot in the door in Taiwan — something that is happening now that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration is opening up various sectors of the economy to Chinese institutional investment and allowing Chinese firms, tourism offices and banks to open branches here — it will be far easier for the Chinese intelligence apparatus to gather intelligence in this country.

The firewall that existed in the Taiwan Strait since 1949, which up until a year ago had made it more difficult, though not impossible, for Chinese spies to gather information in Taiwan, is being dismantled. Similar walls were brought down in the past decade or so in countries like the US, Canada and Australia. As we saw, along with investment and firms came Chinese spies; industrial secrets — worth tens of billions of US dollars — were stolen, as were military secrets. (As early as 1997, CSIS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police published a report, titled Sidewinder, on the subject, which was watered down for political reasons.)

Since Beijing considers Taiwan a domestic issue, every sector of Taiwanese society will be fair game for Chinese espionage, and whatever off-limit areas may exist in other countries targeted by China will not apply. Furthermore, while Beijing is keen on obtaining economic and military secrets from other countries, those goals pale in comparison with the CCP’s mission of “reuniting” Taiwan. That historical imperative, added to the perception of Taiwan as a “domestic” matter, bodes ill for Taiwan as a target of Chinese espionage.

If nothing is done to bolster Taiwan’s counter-espionage capabilities — and so far the signals given by the Ma administration are not promising — the fears raised in Sidewinder and other reports could read like soap novellas.

This article was published today in the Taipei Times.