Taiwan and China’s precarious relationship continues to be bruised by incidents of spying. Zhou Hongxu has been arrested for attempting to recruit spies within the Taiwanese government using business interests and education as ruses. Zhou came from China to Taiwan on a student exchange program and graduated from National Chengchi University in 2016. This is the first time since Taiwan opened its borders to students from China that a Chinese student in Taiwan has been used to recruit spies. Previously, China lured retired military personnel into espionage. Recruiting younger spies has fewer potential hazards and means information sharing can last a working life. This stance is supported by Wang Ting-yu, Chairperson of the Taiwanese Defence Committee, who noted in a BBC interview “You cannot tell who your enemy is.” He also made the point that China has increased its spying capacity since President Tsai came to office. Taiwan’s reaction has been very low key as it does not wish to upset China further and is very aware its economic growth is heavily reliant on China.
Beijing’s spokesperson for Taiwan Affairs, Ma Xiaoguang, has labelled the media reports linking the arrested student with his office as trouble-making untruths. Taiwanese officials asserted such comments displayed China’s limited understanding of the Taiwanese Judicial System. Other nations have remained silent on this topic although they will be watching closely to see what happens. Many nations will view the situation as one only China and Taiwan can resolve. The United States of America, a superpower of the global world, will be watching the situation with interest as it has a pivotal role with both China and Taiwan. Recognizing the People’s Republic of China since 1979, the United States of America supports the idea of one China with Taiwan being part of this. Taiwan is highly supported by the United States because of the Taiwan Relations Act, which ensures Taiwan will have all necessary weapons to defend itself from attack.
The Taiwanese Defence Review, which is published every four years has recently highlighted China as a real threat to Taiwan. Meetings, where China and Taiwan can share peaceful discourse to gain an understanding of each other’s perspective, are the only viable way to resolve their differences. Unfortunately, China’s current behaviour does not display willingness for such a non-confrontational process. In recent times, China has grown into a strong regional power with military might and has made it very clear the resolution to issues with Taiwan must be to its advantage. Taiwan must work hard to avoid the coercion and threats China frequently alludes to. Although Taiwan is weaker, its new President, unlike her predecessor, has taken a more prudent approach to relations with China as she lacks a mandate from the Taiwanese people. Some favour very close links with China, especially the 1,000,000 who have gone to live in China, while others want full independence from China. A third group favours something between these two. Taiwan needs to implement a program to educate civil servants and tertiary students on espionage and security systems to foil attempts luring people into spying rings. Those travelling on exchanges or regular business trips are particularly at risk. Knowledge and heightened awareness have the potential to limit espionage activities in Taiwan.
Hostile rhetoric has long been a strategy used by China when it senses Taiwan is not being compliant. An example of this behaviour was seen when Taiwan independence gained support. China has always considered Taiwan a province of the mainland and has articulated force would be used to annex Taiwan if this was required. In 1992, the One China Policy was proposed. The two countries agreed to the idea but differed over who would rule China. Unfortunately, China believes it needs consensus on this for normal relations while Taiwan does not although it strives to keep communication open. Spying on Taiwan is not new as China has done so over many years. Collecting information and domestic unrest has escalated in Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen has become President as she has not squashed calls for independence. Friction between China and Taiwan will only be resolved by dialogue when both parties are willing to perceive the other’s viewpoint. Long lasting, peaceful resolutions that China and Taiwan can live with will result from such sincere discussions.