DEC. 20, 2017
Zhou Hongxu, center, was convicted of espionage by a Taiwan court in September. Members of the pro-unification New Party knew Mr. Zhou but did not know he was spying for China, according to the party. Credit Tyrone Siu/Reuters
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan is investigating four members of a small political party that advocates unification with China, on the suspicion that they gave Chinese officials classified information related to an espionage case.
Beijing said it was watching the situation closely. The development comes as China is putting increasing pressure on Taiwan, which it considers a part of its territory that must eventually come under its control.
Wang Ping-chung, spokesman for the New Party, which holds no seats in Taiwan’s legislature, and three other party members affiliated with its youth wing were detained and questioned on Tuesday, the Taiwan authorities said. They have since been released.
Prosecutors and investigators at the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau, which is conducting the inquiry, also searched the homes of the four men, who recently visited China. They are suspected of providing Chinese officials with information related to the investigation of Zhou Hongxu, who is serving a 14-month prison sentence after a Taiwan court convicted him of spying for China in September.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Wang confirmed news reports that a large amount of renminbi, China’s currency, had been found in his home. He said the money had been obtained legally through royalties for his writing and business investments he had made in China.
Mr. Zhou, a recent graduate of a Taiwan university, was found guilty of trying to obtain classified information and to set up a spy ring within the government. Mr. Wang, head of the New Party’s youth committee, is suspected of having helped Mr. Zhou meet Taiwan government officials, according to the Taiwan authorities. Mr. Wang has denied the allegation.
Tsai Cheng-chung, the New Party’s deputy secretary general, said Mr. Wang and other party members knew Mr. Zhou but did not know he was spying for the Chinese Communist Party. “There is no relationship between the New Party and Zhou Hongxu,” Mr. Tsai said by telephone.
He called the investigation an attempt by President Tsai Ing-wen’s government to intimidate opponents of Taiwanese independence.
Independent in all but name, Taiwan is administered by the Republic of China government that fled to the island in 1949, after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists. Beijing refuses to have diplomatic relations with any of the 20 countries that recognize Taiwan, which has no representation at the United Nations.
China has ratcheted up pressure against Taiwan since President Tsai took office last year, insisting that she accept that Taiwan is part of “one China,” which she has refused to do. Beijing has blocked Taiwan from participating in United Nations organizations where it once had observer status, and it has lured more of Taiwan’s dwindling number of diplomatic allies away, most recently Panama.
This week, the Chinese state news media released video footage of Chinese warplanes flying around what was believed to be Taiwan.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, which is in charge of relations with the island, said in a statement on Tuesday that it was closely watching developments surrounding the New Party, which it praised for opposing formal independence for Taiwan.
“Everyone knows that the New Party has always upheld the One China principle, firmly opposed ‘Taiwan independence,’ advocated peaceful unification and actively protected and pushed for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations — we highly appreciate this,” the statement said.
Margaret Lewis, a Seton Hall law professor and Fulbright senior scholar at National Taiwan University, said the investigation into the New Party put the government in a challenging position.
The Tsai administration “has every reason to think that there are activities by China on Taiwan’s soil that are meant to undermine the government” and needs to take the investigation seriously, but it is important to do so while upholding the rights of the accused, Ms. Lewis said.
“It’s going to make the Tsai administration walk a very fine line between being strong and protecting national security while at the same time being cognizant of the commitments the administration has made to human rights,” she said.