Chinese spy case in Taiwan raises issue of reviving military trials

11/23/2022 12:51 PM
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The military court in Kaohsiung. CNA file photo
The military court in Kaohsiung. CNA file photo

Taipei, Nov. 23 (CNA) Scholars and lawmakers in Taiwan suggested on Tuesday that the government consider reinstating military trials during peacetime or amending laws to better deter military espionage after an Army colonel was indicted Tuesday for working for China.

At present, Taiwan's Military Trial Act only applies to active military personnel who commit crimes under the Criminal Code of the Armed Forces during wartime.

While not at war, all military personnel are tried in regular courts and serve time in civilian prisons like all other citizens in the country.

Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), a research fellow at the Taiwan government-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), said military espionage poses a serious threat to national security and counter-intelligence agencies around the globe have been doing their best to prevent and detect spying attempts.

He urged related government authorities to conduct a thorough review on whether to reinstate military trials or at least invite military prosecutors to take part in investigations in espionage cases.

Reinstating military trials during peacetime for active personnel would definitely improve troop discipline and combat readiness and deter espionage, he argued.

The current case

Such calls emerged after Kaohsiung prosecutors indicted former Army colonel Hsiang Te-en (向德恩) on corruption charges Tuesday for allegedly taking money to provide information to China.

According to the indictment, the 49-year-old former head of the Kaohsiung-based Army Infantry Training Command's Operations Research and Development Division was charged with receiving monthly payments of NT$40,000 (US$1,280) since late 2019 from former reporter Shao Wei-chiang (邵維強) to allegedly spy for China.

Between Oct. 31, 2019 and January 2022, Hsiang accepted a total of NT$560,000 from Shao in exchange for information which he had obtained from the military, according to the indictment.

To prove his loyalty to China, Shao asked Hsiang to wear his military uniform for a photograph in January 2020 while holding a handwritten note pledging his allegiance to China, prosecutors said in the indictment.

The note stated: "I, Hsiang Te-en, hereby pledge to support cross-strait peaceful unification. I will do my best at my current post to fulfill the glorious task of pushing for peaceful unification for the motherland."

Prosecutors said they decided to charge Hsiang with corruption instead of espionage because they had not found any evidence so far to prove that Hsiang had indeed passed sensitive military information concerning Taiwan's armed forces to China.

Military trail system amended in 2013

In response, ruling Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) said the latest case exposed major negligence in the military's internal espionage prevention and detection system.

While Lo did not explicitly call for the resumption of military trials, he did appeal for revisions of existing laws that would prioritize the loyalty of military personnel and ensure that spies could be charged with treason and face tougher penalties.

Previously asked by Kuomintang Legislator Wu Sz-Huai (吳斯懷) about his view on restoring military trials during peacetime on Nov. 9, Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) said he "personally agreed" with the idea but said it was for lawmakers to decide.

According to the Ministry of National Defense (MND), out of 32 crimes committed by active duty military personnel that were brought to trial over the past five years, 90 percent of them did not result in convictions by civilian courts.

This has led to a decline in discipline, morale, and the leadership ability of Taiwan's military officers, according to Wu.

Both suspects detained

Meanwhile, the MND said late Tuesday that Hsiang has been suspended from active military duty, pending his trial.

He was arrested on Sept. 26 and has been held in custody since then after a court order.

Shao, who is also a retired Army lieutenant, had served as the Kinmen correspondent of the Taipei-based China Television Company since 1993 before retiring in July 2019.

On Oct. 7, Kinmen Prosecutors indicted Shao on charges of bribery and violating National Security Act for his alleged involvement in recruiting Hsiang as a Chinese spy. He is currently in custody in Kinmen.

Reform of military trial in 2013

The amendment to the Military Trial Act to eliminate military trials of officers in peacetime was made immediately following the death of Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) in July 2013.

Hung was found dead while being held in detention in the Army's 269th Mechanized Infantry Brigade barracks under suspicious circumstances.

The military investigation led to the arrest and questioning of several officials. A court subsequently found 13 military officials guilty of various charges and handed out prison sentences of up to eight months.

The sentences were seen as too lenient, leading for calls for such cases to be tried in civilian courts in the future.

Hung's death sparked the resignation of then Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu (高華柱), an apology from then President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), and public protests, followed by subsequent reforms that demanded more transparency from the nation's armed forces.

(By Joseph Yeh)

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