Retired Military Commanders Among 3 Taiwanese Charged With Spying for Beijing

December 9, 2019 Updated: December 10, 2019
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Taiwan has sentenced a retired lieutenant general and charged two other men with helping mainland China run its interference operations on the self-ruled island, including attempts to sway Taiwan’s democratic elections. 

On Dec. 3, Republic of China (Taiwan) authorities sentenced former Lt. Gen. Luo Wen-shan to 30 months in prison for having accepted mainland Chinese money to promote a pro-Beijing politician. Also facing charges of mainland espionage are Cheng Chao-ming, chairman of the Taiwan Labor Party, and his son Cheng Chih-wen, a retired commander in the ROC missile forces. 

The three cases come amid growing concerns that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) recruits and manipulates senior Taiwan elites to subvert local politics. 

Weeks earlier, Wang Liqiang, who defected to Australia and is seeking asylum as a former Chinese spy, spoke at length to the media about the CCP’s clandestine activities abroad. After Wang implicated his former employer Xiang Xin and Xiang’s wife Kung Ching as having meddled in Taiwan’s elections, they were arrested in Taiwan and put under investigation by the Taipei District Prosecutors Office.

Political Donations

The Taipei District Court sentenced Luo Wen-shan to two and a half years in prison. In addition, the court confiscated illegally acquired funds, including 8.385 million New Taiwan dollars (around $275,220) from the account of the Chinese Huangpu Four Seas Alliance Association, of which Luo is chair, as well as 13,110 New Taiwan dollars (around $430) from his private account. 

Luo, 83, moved to Taiwan with his father, former general of the Republic of China Army Luo You-lun, when he was a teenager.

Luo held a variety of high-ranking posts, including administrator of the Republic of China Military Academy, administrative deputy minister of national defense, and membership in the third convocation of the National Assembly. After retiring, Luo chaired the Huangpu Association and was deputy director of the Huang Fu-hsing faction of the Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT), one of Taiwan’s two major political parties. 

According to the verdict, Luo thrice received political donations from Hong Kong businessman Hui Chi-Ming amounting to a total of 2 million Hong Kong dollars ($255,500) to the Huangpu association between 2008 to 2010.  

Hui immigrated to Hong Kong from Guangdong Province in the late 1980s, and chairs the Hong Kong Hoifu Energy Group and Sino Union Petroleum & Chemical International. Among other positions, he also holds membership in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, the Standing Committee of the Shaanxi CPPCC, and is a senior economic consultant to Shaanxi provincial government. 

Luo also received 137,500 HKD ($17,563) from Ho Biu, a normal Hongkonger in August 2012, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency. 

Luo claimed that the money from Hui and Ho were used to pay the campaign advertisements for Ma Ying-jeou, former Kuomintang candidate during Taiwan elections, as well as the cost of Hui’s Taiwan trips when he visited Taiwan and met with Ma and Lien Chan, former Kuomintang chairman and former Taiwan premier.

The ‘Beiping Model’

While Luo was sentenced in Taipei, on Dec. 3 the Tainan District Prosecutor’s Office placed charges against chairman of the Taiwan Labor Party, Cheng Chao-ming, and his son, retired Lt. Col. Cheng Chih-wen. The younger Cheng is was formerly a supervisory staff officer in the Missile Command of the ROC Army. 

Now 67, Cheng Chao-ming first visited mainland China in 1991, when relations between Taiwan and the mainland were particularly strained. Since then, he has visited China frequently and focused on building up cross-straits relationships.

According to the prosecutor’s office, the 50-year-old Chih-wen was a staff officer at the Combined Logistics Command of the ROC Ministry of Defense in November 2009. At the request of a mainland official, Chao-ming and his son travelled to Japan, where they met with an official from the Fujian provincial United Front Work Department surnamed Li, as well as two other senior Chinese officials.

The United Front Work Department (UFWD) is a key Communist Party agency. Its main task to influence elite individuals and organizations inside and outside China in support of the CCP.

In the first meeting with Li, Chih-wen discussed what he knew of the Taiwan military. In exchange, Li gave him $1,000 in cash and gifted his father a special vase.

In October 2010, the father and son went to Singapore to meet Li and two other mainlanders, whose identifies remain unclear. In this meeting, Li asked Chih-wen to follow the “Beiping Model” in the event of military conflict between Taiwan and the mainland. 

Beiping was the name of Beijing during the era of KMT rule in mainland China. The
Beiping Model refers to the strategy the CCP used in 1948 and 1949 to encourage the Nationalist general defending Beijing to give up the city without armed resistance. 

Chih-wen agreed with Li and the two signed an agreement. Li gave him another $11,000 in cash and a Tissot watch worth 10,000 Taiwan dollars ($330) at the time.

The younger Cheng retired from the army in 2013, following which Li asked him to introduce active-duty Taiwan military officers to him.

In December 2016, Chih-wen invited his friend, Lt. Col. Chen Sheng-yu in Taiwan’s military police command, to Malaysia as tourists. After arriving in Kuala Lumpur, Chih-wen arranged Chen to meet with Li. 

In the meeting, Li gave 20,000 yuan ($2,850) to Chih-wen to cover his travel costs.

In August 2017, Chih-wen and Chen met with Li in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This time, Li convinced Chen to offer his services in helping reunify Taiwan and the mainland under communist rule. Li then gave Chih-wen another 20,000 yuan. 

In July 2018, the two Taiwanese again traveled to Ho Chi Minh to meet Li and one of Li’s superiors. During the meeting, Chen agreed to follow the Beiping Model. Li’s superior gave Chen $10,000 in cash and a Tissot watch. Li gave Chih-wen and Chen $1,000 each to cover their travel costs.

The Tainan District Prosecutor’s Office has requested that Tainan District Court sentence Cheng Chao-ming to three years in prison, and Chih-wen to three years and eight months. 

Anti-Infiltration Bill

The Legislative Yuan, the unicameral legislature of Taiwan, recently amended the National Security Law and is trying to launch the Anti-Infiltration Bill.

The National Security Law Amendment was signed into law on July 3. It increased the punishment for engaging in espionage for mainland China from the current maximum of five years in prison with a fine of 50 million Taiwan dollars ($1.64 million) to no less than seven years in prison with a maximum fine of 100 million Taiwan dollars. The punishment for being found guilty of espionage for other countries was increased to three to 10 years in prison with a fine of no more than 30 million Taiwan dollars.

The Anti-Infiltration Bill passed the second reading on Nov. 29, and will be voted on in the third reading as soon as on Dec. 31.

The bill makes it illegal for any ROC citizen to engage in activities such as following orders, indications, or commands from sources of mainland Chinese influence, accepting political donations from the mainland, trying to impact Taiwanese elections or referendums, or interfering with legal rallies and other public assemblies. 

Those found in violation of bill could be sentenced one to seven years in prison with a fine no more than 5 million Taiwan dollars ($164,100).

If the Anti-Infiltration Bill passes the third reading, it will become law if signed by Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen within 10 days.