For three consecutive days since the evening of Oct. 11, Beijing’s mouthpiece, China Central Television (CCTV) has aired reports on the so-called Thunder-2020 campaign under the Chinese national security authorities. The state broadcaster claimed that the operation has cracked “more than hundreds” of espionage cases involving spies from Taiwan, and unearthed “Taiwan’s collusion with outside forces.” No doubt there is a political agenda behind this but another mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), its main propaganda newspaper, the “People’s Daily” published a “Report to the Taiwan Intelligence and Governance Department” on Oct 15, in which it shamelessly demanded the intelligence personnel of the Republic of China (ROC) to “stand on the right side of history.” It is really necessary to take the farce of the Beijing authorities' ridiculous tone as a sharp warning.
The strange article by the “People’s Daily” first accused “Taiwanese spies” of acting as a tool to promote “Taiwan independence” that not only infiltrated the mainland in a frenzy, but also monitored “people on the island,” and then it inexplicably criticized Taiwan’s intelligence agencies, getting the wrong end of the stick. It also wrote, “we are willing to create a vast space for peaceful unification,” then threatened that “those who obey the CCP will prosper, and those who oppose will perish,” followed by “we will not pledge to renounce the use of force against the conspiracy for independence and rejection of unification.” The article emphasized that “Taiwanese spies” should not follow the same path as “Taiwan independence.” In the end, in a whimsical fantasy, it urged “Taiwanese spies” to visit China more often where they could communicate and cooperate with each other to build a “hidden line of defense” to protect their sovereignty, not forgetting to invoke “nationalism” to appease itself.
The “People’s Daily” has never represented the people of China, and now it is publishing such ridiculously contradictory and inferior articles that Mao Zedong himself would shed tears and surrender to “Taiwanese spies” upon reading it.
The CCP’s series of actions of stirring up the “Taiwan espionage cases,” including the “defense education” program simulcast by CCTV, and the “auxiliary education activities” organized by various agencies after viewing the cases, were all scheduled long ago. The fact is that no matter what President Tsai Ing-wen had said on National Day, despite she maintained her past position, released that she will not take any risks on cross-strait relations and was willing to promote goodwill for meaningful dialogue in accordance with the principle of reciprocity and dignity, the Beijing authorities are determined to play this out to the end.
This is because the CCP will hold the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee in late October to review the 14th Five-Year Plan for future economic and social development. Furthermore, next year will be the centenary of the founding of the party, as well the year when Xi Jinping will completely rearrange the Politburo Standing Committee and other high-level personnel during the 20th National Congress, so as to rule the world in a supreme position.
The continuous political drama must be Xi’s way to prevent any extraneous complications, including the two sides of the strait. Of course it would be ideal to be less intense but the fact that the CCP’s senior leaderships are neither able to be distracted and deal with cross-strait issues, nor are they willing to take the responsibility of inducing criticism from the hawks by relaxing their tone. Hence, it is better to remain adamant and continue to maintain a tough posture, so as to accumulate strength for future turning points.
But why make the move on “Taiwanese spies”? For one, espionage work is sensitive enough to attract the attention of the public. Moreover, in the actual current cross-strait intelligence and cyber attacks and defenses, the busting of “Taiwan espionage cases” with images and stories are easier to understand and more exciting than the virtual world. The ROC intelligence personnel have the qualities of heritage, loyalty, secrecy and competence. The CCP probably thought that if it can really appeal to them, it would be powerful propaganda that can beckon to the other three armed forces. However, the CCP did not know that this group of intelligence agents will take risks that even one generation’s contribution is not enough, so the second and third generations continue to take the field to defend the ROC that the CCP dares not face squarely. The Beijing authorities even tried to divide the cross-straits with the charge of “Taiwan independence,” accusing “Taiwanese spies” of disrupting cross-strait peace. Everyone knows that the CCP regime is a group of control freaks who do not practice what they preach and bring shame to Chinese ethnic people.
The other reason is that Beijing can use the “Taiwan espionage cases” to serve as a warning to foreign forces that are conducting large-scale spy activities in China. In the past, the Ministry of State Security of the People’s Republic of China (MSS) has used personnel lurking in the U.S. CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) to gain access to U.S. intelligence operations in Beijing, and concurrently eliminated them in a single day, even going so far as to shoot a fleeing fugitive target on the street to deter the U.S. This also revealed that there are indeed many international espionages going on in China.
The CCP has been increasing its digital surveillance efforts in various places, which will inevitably increase the difficulty of espionage work, but it is certain that even Russia has intelligence personnel operating on the mainland. Beijing wants to contain them, yet at the same time, it must clamor to officials and the public about secrecy and anti-espionage to avoid leaking information about the political drama. As a result, “Taiwanese spies” has become the best topic to use; it will not stimulate the U.S. or offend Russia at the critical juncture, plus the added value is even higher.
It is precisely because the CCP regime is highly opaque that countries have resorted to various means to ascertain the actual situation of the Chinese party, government and society. Similar to the most frequently recalled Taiwan Strait missile crisis in 1996, if the ROC Military Intelligence Bureau did not grasp the actual intention of the CCP’s saber-rattling for military exercises, there is no guarantee that there would not have been a shoot-out in the Taiwan Strait and that peace between the two sides of the strait would have been secured until now.
On the contrary, the whole world knows that Chinese spies have been actively infiltrating various countries and are well-known for being all-pervasive, all-encompassing and completely unscrupulous. In that case, apart from denials that sound like a broken record, should the Beijing authorities explain to the world the purpose of doing so? Is it to ensure world peace?
The CCP’s desire to reduce intelligence activities within its borders may start with increased transparency and integrity. Chinese spies around the world may even learn more about the “party” by experiencing the freedom of life and reading books about the Great Leap Forward, Tiananmen Square, Tibet, Xinjiang and other topics that are forbidden at home.
The “hidden defense line” mentioned by the “People’s Daily,” which the CCP called a “covert front,” refers to its intelligence work. Beijing probably did not expect that its original intention to win over “Taiwanese spies” accidentally became a confession to its own love for engaging in secret infiltration. However, this also reflects that the ROC’s intelligence personnel really do have to put in more effort to continue their tug-of-war with the CCP. Ironically, the silent battlefield is the easiest to ignore. They do not need applause, but they need actual policies, resources, support from the leadership and respect for their work, nothing more.
I hope cross-strait peace will be maintained forever, and I also welcome those mainland intelligence personnel, who have the opportunity to set foot on a free land, to bring a different mindset and message with them when they return home. As for the CCP, it had better understand the historical patterns that the more authoritarian and domineering it becomes, the more dangerous it is. Do not overdo it and do not say that it was unexpected.
(Tzou Wenfeng, China political observer)
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