The government of Taiwan revealed Thursday that it has charged three men — all of whom worked for Taiwanese lawmakers — with espionage, accusing them of attempting to steal President Tsai Ing-wen’s medical records.
Chen Wei-jen and Lee Yi-hsien worked for two lawmakers from the China-friendly Kuomintang party and Lin Yung-ya worked for a member of Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the major party typically viewed as more aggressively anti-communist. Authorities identified Lee as a failed journalist. According to the Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, authorities believe Chen led the three in a spy ring that answered to a Chinese regime official identified as Huang Guanlong between 2014 and 2018 dedicated to acquiring sensitive political documents within Taiwan and sharing them with the Communist Party:
The spy ring roped in a researcher surnamed Chen at the National Policy Foundation, who provided internal KMT documents for meetings between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party. Chen Wei-jen also found engineers to hack Taiwan’s health insurance database in an attempt to obtain Tsai’s medical records.
They used their connections with civil servants to obtain information about Falun Gong activists, government policies, personnel details, and even internal office phone numbers, prosecutors said. However, no confidential information has been leaked.
Law enforcement officials are accusing the men of attempting to find and steal Tsai’s personal medical records but do not have evidence that they ever managed to come close to doing so. The men allegedly attempted to find her information through the National Health Insurance (NHI) database, but given the sensitive nature of her status as president, Taipei keeps her files in a more secure location. Taiwan News reported that prosecutors believe the attempt to access the NHI database was a failed hacking, and one of several failed attempted to extract intelligence, many of them attempts to convince others in Taiwan to share information that they refused to.
The Taiwanese government claims the three also sought information on the activities of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party considers Falun Gong, a movement based in part on Buddhism, a threat to its control over Beijing and violently persecutes its members, imprisoning them and, in some cases, harvesting their organs for sale on the black market. The architect of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Jiang Zemin, has referred to Falun Gong as an “evil cult.”
The three alleged spies are free on bail but banned from leaving Taiwan.
Taiwanese officials accuse China regularly of campaigns to infiltrate and embarrass its government. While Taiwan has been a sovereign state for decades and historically independent from Beijing, the Communist Party insists that it is a rogue province and rejects diplomatic ties with any nation that formally accepts Taiwan’s existence. Prior to Thursday’s revelations, Taiwanese police revealed in May that hackers believed to have ties to China stole presidential office files and leaked them, but not before modifying their contents to make them more embarrassing to Tsai.
Tsai infuriated Chinese officials this week by welcoming American Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to Taipei, the highest-ranking cabinet official from America to visit the country in decades. The United States does not formally recognize that Taiwan is a country — a holdover policy from the Jimmy Carter era — but under President Donald Trump has increased exchanges with the Tsai administration.
As Taiwan has one of the most successful records of fighting the Chinese coronavirus pandemic of any nation on earth, Azar and his team are visiting to learn about what methods for containing the disease they can implement in the United States. Taiwan has successfully managed to keep coronavirus cases low with minimal international help, has the Communist Party prevents the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) from accepting it as a member.
Speaking of the position in history that Taiwan now holds, Tsai noted during a talk at the Hudson Institute this week that authoritarian influences are seeking to take advantage of the pandemic to promote their interests.
“When the rest of the world has been distracted in responding to one of the most significant crises in recent history, we’re seeing a growing effort to pose ever more challenging threats to free and democratic societies,” she noted, using the recent arrests of pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong as an example.
“Nowhere is this more apparent than in Hong Kong … We are the only two Chinese speaking societies around the world that commemorate June the fourth and its profound significance for freedom and democracy,” Tsai noted. June 4 is the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
“Taiwan stands on the front lines in the defense of democratic values. The gravity of the threat we face signifies the difficulty of the task before us, but by standing as one, as a community of like-minded democracies, I am confident we will rise to successfully meet the challenge,” she concluded.