Liu murder case: Taiwan leadership's albatross

The Henry Liu murder case, although no longer a public issue here, is proving a political liability for President Chiang Ching-kuo's government. Official involvement in the crime now appears to be a long-term setback in Taiwan's efforts to improve its international image. Mr. Liu was a dissident writer who worked as an intelligence agent for both Taiwan and mainland China, as well as for the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was killed in his California home last year by three members of Taiwan's most prominent crime syndicate, the Bamboo Union.

In the year since Liu was murdered, divisions within the ruling Kuomintang (KMT, or Chinese Nationalist Party) and between party and government leaders have deepened.

In April, the government convicted three intelligence officials of ordering the crime. The most senior official implicated was Vice-Adm. Wong Hsi-ling, who headed the National Defense Ministry's intelligence operations.

But few observers are satisfied that the trials revealed the full extent of government involvement in Liu's murder. Many still believe the trials were conducted chiefly to blunt a tide of criticism from US congressmen.

Some officials here recognize that the Liu case has hindered the work of Washington's ``Taiwan lobby'' -- a congressional group that supports the island republic and opposes closer US ties with Peking. It will now be more difficult, the officials say, for Taiwan's allies in the US to defend it against potentially damaging legislation -- especially protectionist legislation.

After Admiral Wong's arrest, many KMT members argued vigorously for the reform of Taiwan's large security apparatus. In particular they supported greater civilian control of the eight major intelligence agencies.

The government's failure to carry out any such reforms has left the party deeply divided, particulary between its leadership and its younger generation, according to some members.

In July, the government reconstituted the Defense Intelligence Bureau, which Admiral Wong had headed, and restricted the new agency's activities by removing it from the civilian intelligence apparatus. But, although the agency involved in the Liu murder is now on a shorter leash, it has not been dropped as a political instrument, according to many of those who favored reform.

``Intelligence is still part of the political process,'' says one local analyst.

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