As a special service to our readers, Topics Online is providing a weekly news roundup from The News Lens International covering the week’s most important stories from Taiwan, across the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
An Ex-President Indicted
Former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) this week became Taiwan’s third-straight former leader to be prosecuted after leaving office. Following a six-month investigation, the Taipei District Public Prosecutor’s Office charged Ma with violations of the Communication Security and Surveillance Act and the Personal Information Protection Act related to an alleged 2013 wiretapping incident. The case will be heard at the Taipei District Court and a decision is expected by March 28. The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of three years. Ma maintains his innocence.
Spy Games across the Taiwan Strait
A former National Security Bureau agent who was responsible for protecting former Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) was arrested on Monday for allegedly attempting to develop a spy network for China, Taipei Times reported on March 17. This development followed the news late last week that a Chinese student had been detained for alleged espionage. Taiwan’s state media reported that the student had made contact with an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and tried to persuade the official to leak classified information.
There has been speculation Taiwan’s national security authorities estimate there are some 5,000 active Chinese spies in Taiwan collecting information for the Chinese government. However, the figure was denied by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council.
In an exclusive report, Reuters on Wednesday released details of Taiwan’s 2017 Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR), the first such review under President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). The four-yearly review noted, “China’s accelerated military development and recent activity by its military aircraft and ships around Taiwan pose an increased threat to the self-ruled island,” Reuters said.
Defense Spending to Lift
Taiwan’s Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) confirmed plans that Taiwan planned to increase military spending by almost 50 percent to almost 3 percent of GDP in 2018, Bloomberg reported on Thursday. The move follows calls from commentators for several years that Taiwan should increase its national defense budget to at least 3 percent of GDP.
On Wednesday, U.S. conservative news website, the Washington Free Beacon, reported the new Trump administration was preparing to provide “more and better defensive arms to Taiwan.” The report, which quoted unnamed sources, added that the Obama administration had in December 2016 blocked a US$1 billion arms sale to Taiwan.
Calls for South China Sea Rulebook
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has this week urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to use international court ruling on Beijing’s South China Sea claims as a basis for a code of conduct in the region. Last year the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated sweeping Chinese claims over the South China Sea. Bishop’s comments follow a statement from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) last week, who said that China had completed its own code of conduct for behavior in the disputed region. China and ASEAN’s members have been discussing a code of conduct in the area for more than five years.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) on March 15 introduced the South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act. The law “would sanction Chinese individuals and entities that participate in Beijing’s illegitimate activities in the South China Sea and East China Sea,” according to Senator Rubio.