Taipei authorities have detained a Taiwanese general on suspicions that he spied for the Chinese government. Gen. Lo Hsien-che's arrest is the highest-profile espionage case in decades and threatens to shake warming relations between the independently ruled Taiwan and mainland China.
Taiwan’s defense ministry refused to comment on Wednesday on the type and extent of information Lo is believed to have leaked to Beijing. Local media in Taiwan, however, reported that sensitive documents were at stake. The China Post, a Taiwan-based newspaper that leans pro-China, reported that Lo gave Beijing information from the Taiwan-US Pacific Command’s database.
Statements in the Taipei-based China Times, cited by Bloomberg, indicate that “investigators seized documents on military communications, a proposed purchase of Chicago-based Boeing Co.’s Apache helicopters and maps of the Army’s underground fiber-optic cables” from Lo’s residence and office.
Lo's high-level position may have kept him isolated enough to avoid suspicion from other officers. Some colleagues thought that he seemed inexperienced, the China Post also reported.
The material that had been leaked to the Chinese, according to documents seized in his dorm room and office on Jan. 27, covered a wide range of military communication installations, including the underground optical cable network layout throughout the island and the integrated Taiwan-U.S. Pacific Command joint military strike information sharing platform, which cost several tens of billions of New Taiwan dollars over several decades to build and was said to be the single most significant piece of data that triggered a wave of investigation by the U.S.
Taiwanese authorities began investigating Lo last year when he was in charge of the military’s communications and information office, Defense Ministry Spokesman Yu Sy-tue told the Associated Press. The spokesman said that the army believes Lo was recruited by China to be a spy while he was working abroad in 2004. Local media reports he was stationed in the US at the time, although Mr. Yu declined to comment where he was.
The China Post reported that the “American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) knew about the affair as early as 2002 and investigated the matter on its own for more than three years between 2002 and 2005, during which time the general was believed to have been recruited by Chinese authorities when stationed in the U.S.” The American Institute in Taiwan is a public corporation that serves as an unofficial US embassy on the island.
Taiwanese lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were quick to criticize the Taiwanese military for letting Lo go unnoticed for so long, saying that the incident revealed a critical security loophole.
“This could have only a short-term impact, but in the worst case scenario, it might shake the foundations of our nation,” said Justin Chou, a lawmaker with the ruling party Kuomintang, to Bloomberg over the phone. “We are very distressed.”
Lo’s work as a spy is “a big military setback for Taiwan," said Tsai Huang-lang, an opposition party leader, to Agence-France Presse. “Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu and the ministry’s chief of staff Lin Chen-yi should immediately step down to assume full responsibility."
Lo is believed to be the highest-ranking officer accused of spying for China since the 1960s, when a vice defense minister was arrested during a crackdown on Communist sympathizers, according to AP.
China and Taiwan have been at odds since the Kuomintang party, now Taiwan's ruling party, fled mainland China and the Communist Party six decades ago and began governing the island independently. China still considers Taiwan part of its territory and has threatened to use force if the island ever officially declares its independence from the mainland.
Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has tried to reduce tensions by promoting economic relations with Beijing and dropping his predecessor’s pro-independence stance. Yet China’s recent flexing of military might has forced President Ma to take a stronger position on the defense threat from China, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
"Although tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased over the past more than two years, the Chinese communists have not stopped their infiltration into Taiwan," Lieutenant General Wang Ming-wo, who heads Taiwan’s Political Warfare Bureau, told AFP. "Instead, they have been stepping up their intelligence gathering, what we call the 'smokeless war,' against us."