Agent Exchange Promotes Cross-Strait Trust
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 1, 2014
Summary: The Wang Zhang meeting reached a number of agreements, among them
humanitarian access. This has been made one of the functions of the
newly established cross-Strait offices, and constitutes a major
breakthrough. The two organizations have yet to discuss the scope of
humanitarian access. Will it include ROC agents in Mainland custody? We
do not know. But the Mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office Director Zhang
Zhijun has expressed goodwill. He has agreed to a cross-Strait prisoner
exchange in the near future. This offers a glimmer of hope.
Full Text Below:
The Wang Zhang meeting reached a number of agreements, among them humanitarian access. This has been made one of the functions of the newly established cross-Strait offices, and constitutes a major breakthrough. The two organizations have yet to discuss the scope of humanitarian access. Will it include ROC agents in Mainland custody? We do not know. But the Mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office Director Zhang Zhijun has expressed goodwill. He has agreed to a cross-Strait prisoner exchange in the near future. This offers a glimmer of hope.
Significant improvements in cross-Strait relations have occurred since 2008. ROC intelligence activity on the Mainland has changed in response to changing circumstances. Our needs have changed. We place greater emphasis on information gathering and evaluation, and less on undercover activity. Some of our military intelligence personnel are still prisoners of the Mainland. Some Taiwan business people are still under indictment, and rotting in prison. That is why recently many want prisoner exchanges to be made part of cross-Strait negotiations.
Our side has explored a variety of channels to rescue captured agents. In 2008, when Vice President Wu Den-yih was KMT secretary-general, the head of the military intelligence directorate asked him to seek the release of our agents. Wu Den-yih said that rescuing our agents was "the right thing to do."
When Wu became premier, he repeatedly instructed the SEF to consult with the Mainland through formal cross-Strait platforms, in order to obtain the release of our agents and to return them to Taiwan. The government made a sincere effort, but has yet to officially incorporate the return of agents into cross-Strait consultations.
As Vice President Wu Den-yih said, rescuing our agents was "the right thing to do." It is also something the public demands. Given the current state of cross-Strait relations, the time is ripe. The Mainland often talks about making generous concessions. In fact, noble gestures would be even more welcome than generous concessions.
Human intelligence is the oldest profession in the world. War or peace. Friend or foe. This country or that. Intelligence work never ceases. And so it is across the Taiwan Strait. Early intelligence work reflected the Cold War mentality. It was heads I win, tails you lose. But confrontation between the two sides has ended. The purpose of intelligence today is to obtain correct information to avoid incorrect conclusions. Its purpose is peace, not war. If the Mainland can adopt similar thinking, mutual trust between the two sides can make a giant leap forward.
Before the Mainland and the United States established diplomatic relations, they made a show of goodwill by releasing each others' agents. The two sides of the Strait belong to the same culture and speak the same language. Former Mainland leader Hu Jintao said the two sides must heal the wounds of history. The release of captured agents is more than a noble gesture. It is a symbolic act that can help heal the scars of history.
Taipei should also demonstrate that it is amenable to new thinking. The two sides have gradually dialed down military confrontation. But the two sides still have military deployments. They still see each other as strategic rivals. In particular, too many on Taiwan see the Mainland as their sole enemy. But cross-Strait relations have left the Cold War behind. They are progressing towards peaceful development. People on Taiwan must cease to think of the Mainland as their enemy. Economic and trade exchanges involve close public contacts. Military conflict would amount to a bizarre paradox. The two sides would have difficulty squaring the two. Our side may not have many chips to play. But we should release the Mainland's agents.
What about the nut and bolts of any prisoner exchange? The two sides have yet to sign an official prisoner exchange agreement. The two sides should allow humanitarian access. They should allow each side access to the other side's prisons and detention facilities. They should allow visits and assistance, to safeguard the basic rights of detained intelligence operative. We must understand their needs, including their need for legal assistance.
The issue of prisoner exchanges has surfaced. To reduce political sensitivities, it can be discussed in the same breath as exchanges of criminal offenders. The definition for intelligence operative can be made fuzzy to increase negotiating room. The definition of intelligence operative may be sensitive. Once the two sides begin confirming who is who, personnel whose identities were in doubt will have their covers blown. This is a problem that may impede progress.
Actually, according to the Geneva Convention, spies being released, repatriated, or resettled, have rights. The convention limits the definition of "spy." It states that unless an agent is captured while engaged in espionage, he or she must be treated as a prisoner of war. It also stipulates that those publicly identified as spies must be treated humanely. They may not be treated differently merely because they are spies. Taipei is not a signatory to the Geneva Convention. Cross-Strait relations are not international relations. But the prisoner exchange agreement nevertheless should be followed.
The Mainland has high expectations concerning political dialogue and consultation. Cross-Strait exchanges, and economic and trade relations have given cross-Strait peace a tremendous boost. But anti-China sentiment has also intensified. Taiwan society is clearly not ready to begin political negotiations. The release of ROC intelligence operatives is a humanitarian issue. It should be treated as a touchstone for the resolution of cross-Strait political hostility, and the building of cross-Strait military trust. If the two sides can agree on prisoner exchanges, it will mean that they no longer see each other as enemies. Military confidence building measures can then be left for another day.
We sincerely hope that prisoner exchanges can become an official part of cross-Strait negotiations, and mark a new page in history.