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March 31, 2013 4:36 pm
Chinese spying on Taiwan has intensified even as relations between Beijing and Taipei have improved, according to Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou.
In an interview, Mr Ma, who has successfully pushed for closer ties with China, said the resulting rise in Chinese visitors was “leading to higher security risks”.
Taiwan also continues to face cyber attacks from the mainland, he said.
More than 2.5m mainland Chinese tourists visited Taiwan last year. Before direct flights started operating between the two in 2008, virtually no mainland citizens were allowed to visit Taiwan. Beijing regards the island as a renegade province, and for decades tension between the two had been one of Asia’s most dangerous flashpoints. That has changed as Mr Ma, elected in 2008, sought to use closer economic integration with China to jump-start Taiwan’s economy.
Mr Ma conceded that closer ties had led to “occasional incidents” of secrets being leaked, but said the situation was “under control”. In one recent case, a Taiwanese general was handed a life sentence for passing military secrets to Beijing.
“Such breaches of security, which have increased in number, do serve as a warning,” said Mr Ma, adding that Taiwan had stepped up its defences.
The president’s comments come as the US and other countries are expressing growing concerns about Chinese cyber attacks. Tsai Der-sheng, the director of Taiwan’s main intelligence agency, has said Chinese hackers were targeting Taiwan’s infrastructure, including its financial system, in addition to trying to steal corporate secrets.
William Stanton, the former top US official in Taiwan, has warned that the “success and frequency” of spying cases was undermining the US-Taiwanese security relationship. The US sells Taiwan sophisticated weapons to help the island deter, and defend itself against, any Chinese attack.
Mr Ma said the attacks would not prompt Taiwan to slow down its rapprochement with the mainland. He said he hoped to conclude more trade and services liberalisation deals this year with China, as well as free-trade agreements with New Zealand and Singapore this year.
Mr Ma has won much praise in Washington and other foreign capitals for calming cross-strait relations, but his approval rating at home has slumped to 14 per cent only a year into his second term as he has sought unpopular electricity price rises and pension reforms.
The economy, which relies on export of technologically sophisticated but thin-margin electronics products, was one of Asia’s weakest last year. Mr Ma said growth would nearly triple to 3.6 per cent this year, but warned it would be difficult to achieve higher growth in the long term without opening the economy to more competition.
Mr Ma also said the economy could suffer if Taipei moved too quickly to reduce its reliance on nuclear power. The use of nuclear power in earthquake-prone Taiwan has become increasingly contentious since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.
His administration has proposed a national referendum on whether to halt construction of the island’s fourth nuclear power station, which more than 60 per cent of people oppose, according to polls.
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