Not on the list to a party? Mainland Chinese diplomats apparently did not think it would be a problem as they crashed an event in Fiji hosted by Taiwan’s trade office this month. The occasion was meant to celebrate Taiwan’s National Day (on October 10) but instead of blending in with the other guests, a mainland Chinese diplomat allegedly showed up to the reception uninvited and took photographs of the guests. Reportedly a physical altercation broke out when Taiwanese officials tried to intervene, leaving one hospitalised.
The brawl capped off what has been a tension-filled week in cross-Strait relations. Last week, CCTV turned up the rhetoric when the state-run broadcaster unveiled a three-part series claiming to expose the identities of Taiwanese spies in mainland China.
They included Tsai Chin-shu, chairman of the Southern Taiwan Union of Cross-Strait Relations Association, and retired National Taiwan Normal University professor Shih Cheng-ping, who both confessed on camera to spying for the Taiwanese authorities for years. Now they face prison terms of up to four years.
According to CCTV, both Taiwanese were arrested on the grounds that they had been passing information about mainland Chinese scholars, journalists and officials in charge of Taiwan affairs to Taiwanese intelligence operatives under the pretence of “cross-strait academic exchange”.
Shih allegedly received NT$1.6 million ($56,000) for the risky endeavour while Tsai was accused of making NT$5 million from passing intelligence to Taiwan’s Military Intelligence Bureau.
Back in 2018, CCTV ran a similar programme that claimed Taiwanese spies were targeting students as sources of sensitive information.
The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan’s government agency in charge of relations with China, reacted more angrily this time and condemned Beijing for making “unsubstantiated accusations” against Taiwanese citizens, describing it as “malignant political manipulation”. The MAC maintained that Tsai and Shih were engaging in normal cross-Strait academic exchanges and the information they collected was not confidential.
Foreign espionage experts detected a different motive. “This is classical political warfare, aimed at rattling the Taiwan public and damaging the image of the Taiwan government. The reality is the opposite. Taiwan’s intelligence capabilities towards China are greatly weakened, but China is making inroads infiltrating Taiwan,” a former US intelligence official told the Financial Times.
Besides CCTV’s special programme on the alleged Taiwanese spies, the People’s Daily also ran a commentary last week addressed directly to the island’s agents operating in the mainland. The People’s Daily said Taiwan’s intelligence services (traditionally controlled by the KMT, which does not support Taiwan independence) should stand on the right side of history and not serve the Trump administration’s agenda by creating an “October Surprise” before the American presidential election on November 3.
More intriguingly, when the official newspaper’s WeChat account published the article online, it started with the headline “Don’t say you have not been forewarned!” – a phrase that has been used by Beijing on the eve of past military confrontations with Vietnam, India and the Soviet Union.
In recent months, Beijing has increased its military activities in the Taiwan Strait to signal that China will go to war if necessary to assert control of Taiwan.
The tone of the Chinese media has also become increasingly hostile (see WiC512). Earlier this month, Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalistic Global Times, threatened: “The only way forward is for the mainland to fully prepare itself for war… The historical turning point is getting closer.”
Meanwhile on Thursday Taiwan’s defence minister thanked the US government for approving a potential $1.8 billion arms sale, saying it would improve the island’s defensive capabilities.
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