TAIPEI – For more than 20 years, Xie Xizhang presented himself as a Hong Kong businessman on visits to Taiwan. He now stands accused of having another mission: recruiting spies for China.
On one trip in 2006, Xie met a senior retired Taiwanese navy officer, Chang Pei-ning, over a meal, according to official documents accusing the pair of espionage. Chang would become one of Xie’s agents, the documents allege, helping him penetrate Taiwan’s active military leadership as part of a long-running Chinese operation to build a spy ring among serving and retired military officers.
The Taiwanese officers and their families were allegedly lured by Xie’s offers of all-expenses-paid trips abroad, thousands of dollars in cash payments and gifts such as silk scarves and belts for their wives. In June 2019, counterespionage officers moved against Xie’s network, launching raids that uncovered further evidence, according to the documents, which were reviewed by Reuters. Now, Chang is facing espionage charges and a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Xie. According to a person familiar with the case, Xie is not in Taiwan.
The operation detailed in these documents shows how Beijing allegedly sought out commanders in the Taiwan military and induced them to become spies. It comes amid a series of convictions for military espionage in Taiwan in recent years.
Those cases reveal that China has mounted a broader campaign to undermine the democratic island’s military and civilian leadership, corrode its will to fight, extract details of high-tech weapons and gain insights into defense planning, according to senior retired Taiwanese military officers and current counterespionage agents, as well as former U.S. military and intelligence officers with experience in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s spy catchers are battling a campaign that has compromised senior officers at the heart of the island’s armed forces and government agencies, a steady stream of convictions handed down in the courts shows.