This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Taiwan hit out on Tuesday at the airing on Chinese state TV of “confessions” by two of its nationals accused by Beijing of spying for the democratic island.
State broadcaster CCTV aired “confessions” from jailed Taiwan democracy activist Lee Meng-chu and Cheng Yu-chin, who was reported to be a former aide to Cho Jung-tai, a former chairman of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), on Sunday and Monday respectively.
Cheng, who was arrested during a trip to China in April 2019, told the camera: “I know what I did was harmful to China, as no country would allow its people to divide the country’s territory.”
Lee, who was detained in October 2019 after arriving from Hong Kong, told the camera: “I have done a lot of bad things in the past, and may have harmed the motherland, for which I am very sorry.”
Both Lee and Cheng stand accused of engaging in espionage activities against China for the Taiwan government.
Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang denied that Taiwan was engaged in subversive or infiltration activities against China.
“China often cooks up situations and people as part of its smear campaigns, and to create fear, which is not the behavior of a great power,” Su said.
“They think others are doing such things, because that’s what they do,” he said. “Taiwan is free and democratic, and has been for a long time now, so this level of paranoia on the part of China is really unnecessary.”
Taipei’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) hit out at the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for forcing “confessions” from Taiwan’s citizens.
“It is malignant political manipulation to falsely incriminate a Taiwanese national for conducting espionage activities for Taiwan on a Chinese media outlet,” the MAC said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said there were a number of factual errors in the CCTV report about Cheng.
Former DPP chairman Cho has denied hiring Cheng, saying he doesn’t even know him, while the foreign ministry said Cheng had never worked as a professor at Charles University in the Czech Republic as claimed by CCTV.
The foreign ministry also said CCTV’s report that Cheng had met with one Lee Yun-peng, allegedly a former Taiwan envoy to the Czech Republic in 2004, was inaccurate, and that it had never employed anyone with that name.
It said Cheng did live in the Czech Republic from 2005 to 2018 and was considered a supporter of Beijing, helping to promote Sino-Czech ties and backing President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road global infrastructure plan.
DPP lawmaker Chao Tien-lin said he doesn’t believe any of the stories about Cheng.
“I have to say to the Chinese government that they are really very childish,” Chao said. “Do they have so much internal tension that they need to use innocent and unimportant Taiwan nationals to externalize it, and bully them as a tool to achieve internal stability?”
“Do they not realize that using innocent people … will hurt their international image?”
‘Disappeared’ by police
Simon Cheng, a former employee of the British Consul General in Hong Kong, who disappeared during a business trip to mainland China in August 2019 and who was accused of soliciting prostitutes by the Chinese police, said Lee’s experience had likely mirrored his own very closely.
Cheng, who is now in exile in the U.K., said he was “disappeared” using a very similar process, but the outcomes had been very different.
“He also went missing in mid-August 2019 … but he has remained in detention ever since,” said Cheng, who said following his release that he was tortured by state security police, who appeared to be holding other Hong Kong detainees in the same detention center in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Held in solitary for days, Cheng said he was treated more leniently after 11 days’ detention, which he linked to international media reports of his detention, although state security police then tried to recruit him to spy for them.
He was eventually released after 15 days’ administrative detention after being forced to confess to “soliciting prostitutes” and “betraying the motherland” and being filmed “voluntarily” handing over emails from the British Consulate and Telegram messages from protesters.
“In Lee’s case, the outcome was very different,” Cheng said. “Only now does CCTV air the ‘confession’ video, 14 months after [his detention].”
He said his and Lee’s detentions were likely linked to a political campaign in mainland China aimed at “anti-China subversives in Hong Kong” both in China and beyond its borders.
“They looked for pretexts to arrest hundreds of people,” Cheng said.
Chinese dissident Gong Yujian, who fled to Taiwan after serving prison time for his role in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, said there are no legal checks and balances in China’s judicial system, so the authorities can do as they wish with detainees, including pinning espionage charges on random people.
“China has a very loose legal definition of espionage and secession, which makes it a handy crime to pin on people,” Gong told RFA. “It could be that you accidentally took a photo of military vehicles while you were walking along the street.”
“They can basically charge you with anything.”