by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Wang Ping-Chung/Facebook

WITH WANG PING-CHUNG, his father Wang Ching-Pu, and fellow New Party officials Ho Han-ting and Lin Ming-cheng indicted on charges of espionage for spying on China earlier this month, this has prompted few reactions from Taiwanese society. This is a far cry from initial reactions to Wang’s detention and questioning in December of last year, which catapulted Wang to fame. At that time, even pro-independence Taiwanese youth activists starkly opposed to Wang’s pro-unification political views reacted against what they initially viewed as police overstepping their authority.

Namely, police initially attempted to bring Wang in for questioning without a warrant, leading Wang to livestream his refusal to allow police into his residence until they returned with a warrant. Wang and other New Party members brought in for questioning by police subsequently leveraged on the incident to claim political persecution by the pan-Green camp. Wang and other members of the New Party questioned by police were all members of the New Party’s youth wing and outspoken young people that advocate unification with China.

Photo credit: Wang Ping-chung/Facebook

What proves noteworthy about the incident is that activists have been loggerheads with Wang and cohort for years. Wang, for example, made an appearance alongside former gangster and killer of political dissidents “White Wolf” Chang An-Lo during when Chang threatened to violently evict the Sunflower Movement occupiers of the Legislative Yuan. But pro-Taiwan youth activists would also react against unaccountable actions by police anyway. This may prove a healthy impulse in a democratic society, particularly one which is only recently post-authoritarian.

Yet after reports emerged that Wang had been organizing an Chinese espionage ring in Taiwan through the pro-unification news outlet. Fire News, in collaboration with Chinese student Zhou Hongxu, youth activists and others were far more willing to accept the veracity of charges against Wang and that police actions may not have been without justification. It is reported that Wang and other New Party members were paid by China for how much responses they were able to get for their articles on social media, and to spy on both Taiwanese youth activists and Chinese students studying in Taiwan, sometimes being paid for every meeting they were able to have with such individuals, or even simply for “Likes” on posts on social media.

However, again, because of Taiwan only recently being a post-authoritarian country, it remains a sensitive matter in Taiwan for a ruling political party to arrest members of opponent parties, and this is why the Tsai administration has had to handle the matter with a delicate tack.

Photo credit: Wang Ping-chung/Facebook

Although they have not resonated with the broader Taiwanese public, the KMT has indeed managed to leverage on accusations that the DPP is carrying out a “Green Terror” worse than the KMT’s past “White Terror” in order to rally its base. And Wang and his cohort have managed to accumulate a large amount of political capital in a fairly short period of time by simply leveraging on an initial incident in which the police brought them in for questioning.

As such, before Wang’s arrest earlier this month, the Taiwanese government gave Wang an almost unthinkable degree of freedom for someone under investigation for espionage. Wang and his cohort were allowed to freely travel to China in late April, for example. Similarly, Wang was allowed to write an editorial for China’s state-run Global Times, in which Wang reiterated charges of political persecution despite the evident fact that very fact that he was allowed to write such an editorial is proof to the contrary.  It seems absurd that this would be allowed seeing as Wang and others were under investigation for spying for China.

Very probably, the Tsai administration’s handling of the matter was to drive home the point of Taiwan being a free and democratic country in which one is innocent until proven guilty, unlike China. The Tsai administration likely also realized that to avoid charges of political persecution, it could simply give Wang and company enough rope to hang themselves. This does seem to have been successful.

Wang (center), while in Xiamen, China in April. Photo credit: Wang Ping-chung/Facebook

Either way, it is unknown as to whether the spy network built by Wang and company was successful in any way. Wang and company did not evidence much in the way of espionage training, seeing as much of their actions extremely amateurish—the Fire News website was, for example, simply registered to the New Party’s headquarters. However, this also raises the questions of what actions the Tsai administration should take against spying efforts which, in fact, do not prove all that harmful—as well as raises questions regarding whether such efforts are simply smokescreen for more serious threats.

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