Political Warfare Alert: The Thin Veil between United Front and Spies
How China recruits spies and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) intensifying United Front activities against Taiwan may be linked. The apparent methods used in a recent string of spy cases on the island bears relations to that used by the CCP for its expanding United Front activities—and the latter could enable the former. On May 26, local media in Taiwan revealed that government prosecutors in Taiwan have issued indictments in two separate cases involving retired military officers and a businessman. In both instances, the suspects are alleged to have conspired to form spy rings in Taiwan and were recruited by agents from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and other national security agencies of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
In a recent case involving two retired military officers from Taiwan, the suspected spies include two retired lieutenant colonels. One from the Ministry of Defense’s Communication Development Office under the General Staff Headquarters and intelligence officer, Bian Peng (邊鵬), and the other a former instructor in the Taiwan Air Force and the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science & Technology (NCSIST, 中山科學研究院), Lin Shibin (林世斌). Through enticements from all paid-for vacations to China, these two men were alleged to have targeted the recruitment of retired officers from the Taiwan Air Force for the purpose of developing spy rings in Taiwan.
According to prosecutors, both men were reportedly recruited by the same PLA officer. Moreover, Bian and Lin, who are in their mid-to-late 50s, both went to China to do business after retiring from Taiwan’s military. However, according to prosecutors, when the two men were attempting to recruit members in Taiwan, they operated separately with no apparent coordination between the two individuals.
In December 2015, under the cover of investment opportunities in China, Bian doled out all-expenses paid for trips to China for several retired Air Force officers. The retired officers were also enticed by Bian with a visit to the Hangzhou Yanqiao Central Aviation School (筧橋中央航校), which is a popular attraction among Chinese military buffs due to its historical significance during the Republican era. But during the trip, Bian arranged for them to meet with his PLA handler. The name of the PLA officer is only known in the public record by the surname Wang. The PLA officer is reportedly a colonel and currently serving as the director of the Fujian People’s Government 11th Office.
The 2015 encounter was followed by another all-expense paid for trip in September 2017. The person that Bian was attempting to recruit was reportedly spooked after the person had been asked about the time that it took for Taiwan’s military to refuel and replenish armaments after a fighter jet landed, as well as other military secrets. The other lieutenant colonel charged by Taiwan investigators for spying, Lin Shibin, was reportedly recruited by the same PLA officer in 2009. With a similar cover of all-expense paid for vacations, Lin allegedly invited a retired colonel from Taiwan to visit Xian and coordinated a meeting with the PLA officer. In follow up meetings, the targeted recruit was similarly alerted by Wang when the PLA officer kept talking about issues related to military secrets. Despite future attempts to invite this recruit to visit China—the person made no additional trips after 2014.
Another recent spy case involved a young Taiwanese businessman. Lin Weilin (林偉琳) worked at Suzhou city in Jiangsu province and served as president of the Suzhou Taiwan Youth Association (蘇州台青會會長), vice chairman of the Taiwanese Investment Association (台商投資協會副會長), member of the Youth Federation (青年聯合會), and was allegedly recruited as a spy for China. According to prosecutors, Lin would repeatedly return to Taiwan to offer gifts in the form of cash and help with job placement for prospective recruits. His targets were reportedly his junior high school classmates some of whom were working in Taiwan’s intelligence community, to spy on national security secret and ostensibly for developing a spy ring on the island.
When Lin retired from Taiwan’s marines in 2000, he went to Suzhou city to do business in the electronics market. Early on, he became involved in several Taiwanese business associations and was targeted as a prime recruit by China’s national security apparatuses. According to reports, in 2016 and 2017, Lin returned to Taiwan to participate in his junior high school reunion where he found out that a former classmate was now an officer in Taiwan’s intelligence community. His attempts to recruit this former classmate reportedly included offers to introduce contacts on the other side of the Strait, finding additional work, and generous financial incentives.
Taiwan’s national security authorities reportedly estimate that about 5,000 individuals are spying in Taiwan on behalf of the PRC government. Groups targeted by CCP United Front are now broadly focused on 10 constituencies that include grass-roots villages, youth, students, Chinese spouses, aboriginals, pro-China political, parties and groups, religious organizations, distant relatives, fishermen’s associations, and retired generals, and Beijing may be able to use these channels to identify soft targets for its intelligence operations. According to Chinese intelligence expert Peter Mattis in a 2017 article: “… covert Chinese activities [against Taiwan] have increased in scope, sophistication, and intensity. For the first time in many years, Taiwan’s national security officials see change rather than continuity as a hallmark of Beijing’s intelligence and subversive operations.” Taiwan’s counter-intelligence officials should be on high-alert against Beijing’s intensifying United Front activities.
The main point: How China recruits spies and the CCP’s intensifying United Front activities against Taiwan appear increasingly linked. A recent string of spy cases on the island bears resemblance to that used by the CCP for its expanding United Front activities—and the latter could enable the former.
People Who Self-Identify as Independent Increases over Past Two Years
On May 20th, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) celebrated her second year in office as president of Taiwan. While the Tsai administration is facing enormous external pressure due to Beijing’s coercive campaigns against Taiwan, she is facing increasing pressure internally from the major opposition party and elements of her own party. At the same time, there appears to be a societal trend towards identification as independents over the past two years.
According to a recent poll conducted by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF, 台灣民意教育基金會), since 2016 the percentage of people in Taiwan identifying as independent increased from 31.5 percent to 37.4 percent, whereas the percentage identifying with the Nationalist Party (KMT) increased from 16.6 percent to 21.9 percent, and the percentage identifying with the DPP decreased from 49.3 percent to 36.7 percent.
The results of the TPOF polling data tracks with another survey conducted by the KMT-leaning China Times and Want Want media group that shows nearly 60 percent of respondents expressing identical levels of dissatisfaction with the three largest political parties: DPP, KMT, and the New Power Party (NPP). Among the respondents, only 18.3 percent expressed satisfaction with the DPP, 17.3 percent with the KMT; and both major parties received high dissatisfaction ratings of 59.9 percent. Notably, 60.5 percent of people who self-identified as supporters of the KMT expressed dissatisfaction with that Party, which is nearly double that of the people who expressed that they were satisfied. While 38 percent of people who identified as DPP supporters expressed dissatisfaction with that Party, over 50 percent said that they were satisfied. People identifying with neither party were not supportive of either party with only 13.6 percent and 14.8 percent expressing satisfaction with the KMT and DPP, respectively.
A clear majority of the respondents in the aforementioned poll at 82.3 percent felt that the adversarial nature of the current major political parties were severe, whereas only 5.9 percent did not consider it serious. Whereas 77.2 percent of the people thought that the severe competition between the green and blue coalitions has severely eroded Taiwanese society. Most notably, the poll also indicated that 60.7 percent of the people hoped that Taiwan could form a third party that transcended the two major political parties, whereas only 19.7 percent said that they did not want to see a third party. The age cohort with the strongest reaction to the Green-Blue rivalry is among young adults between the ages of 20 and 29. According to the poll, 88.9 percent of respondents in that age group believe that the situation is serious and 69.8 percent hoped that Taiwan could form a third political party. Even among people between the ages of 50 and 59, 66.4 percent responded that they hoped that there will be a third party.
The low support for the two political parties is consistent with polls conducted by TPOF last October wherein the 30.2 percent of respondents supported the ruling-DPP, 18.9 percent the KMT, 6.4 percent the NPP, 2.9 percent the People’s First Party (PFP), 2.0 percent supported other parties, and 1.4 percent said that they did not know. Most importantly, 38.2 percent of respondents in that poll indicated that they did not support any political party. While the October polls seemed to suggest that the existing smaller political parties were at risk of marginalization, the significant increase in non-support for any of the major parties in the same poll (from 22 percent to 38.2 percent) suggests that the Taiwan population does not foreclose an alternative to the two major political parties.
In another recent poll released by the DPP-leaning Formosa (美麗島電子報) after of the DPP’s decision to field its own candidate for Taipei city in the upcoming local elections this November, 26.7 percent supported the idea for the incumbent Taipei city mayor—who is not affiliated with either political party—to form his own political party. This figure is comparable, and higher than the satisfaction rating for the two major political parties, and consistent with other polling that show strong identification as independents and young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 desiring a third political party.
The main point: There appears to be an undercurrent in Taiwan politics towards identification as independents that could have an impact on politics not only for the upcoming local elections but also the 2020 presidential election.