Taipei Briefing

Taiwan negotiator's alleged leaks to Beijing dent Ma Ying-jeou's image

Allegations about former Taiwan negotiator also expected to hamper cross-strait talks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 August, 2014, 4:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 August, 2014, 4:03am

The alleged leaks of classified information to the mainland by a former senior Taiwan negotiator have not only focused attention on failure at the top of the island's political hierarchy but also undermined cross-strait trust and will hamper future talks between the two sides.

Chang Hsien-yao, the former vice-chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, was asked to resign on August 16 by his boss, Wang Yu-chi, over allegations that he leaked confidential work-related information to the mainland.

But Chang, who is also vice-chairman and secretary general of the Straits Exchange Foundation, cried foul, saying some people in the government had fabricated accusations against him.

Regardless of Chang's guilt, local media have characterised the handling of the case by the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou as a big mess.

In announcing Chang's resignation, the council initially said he left for family reasons, but later cited national security concerns after Chang hit back. Council chairman Wang said he received a tip-off about Chang's alleged leaks and referred the case to the island's Investigation Bureau, igniting speculation that Chang was suspected of spying for the mainland.

As the rumours flew, the council was forced into clarification mode, denting the Ma government's already battered public image.

Many questioned the administration's hasty and rough handling of the case, saying the authorities should have given substantial and concrete evidence of any wrongdoing.

Instead, Chang has been able to portray himself as the victim of "white terror", naming King Pu-tsung, close Ma aide and secretary general of the National Security Council, as one of the perpetrators of the alleged political persecution.

The case recalled Ma's abortive attempt in September last year to oust Wang Jin-pyng, Speaker of the legislature, over claims of influence peddling. The case was reported as a political struggle between Ma and Wang, who had defied Ma's orders in various legislative bills.

Chang's case has also prompted further public questioning of Ma's ability to make top appointments.

Ma backed Chang as the foundation's secretary general and vice-chairman after Kao Koong-lian resigned from the posts in February.

The decision to allow Chang to hold positions with both the council and the foundation at the same time means Chang was highly trusted by his superiors.

But who should be held responsible if it turns out that the holder of such important positions betrayed his government and leak classified information?

More importantly, if Chang really did pass secret information to the mainland, just how much did he reveal? In addition, did he sell out Taiwan's interests in the cross-strait talks he took part in and, if so, should the results of these talks be nullified?

Chang's case has given the opposition handy ammunition to attack the Ma government as being impotent.

It has also given impetus to calls for a review of cross-strait economic and non-political deals since Ma came into office in 2008. And none of this will help the Kuomintang's chances in local elections at the end of the year.

The case has also put the mainland in an awkward position and, most importantly, damaged trust between the two sides.

Further talks will be more difficult now that loyalty is at issue. Any new negotiator from Taiwan could take a particularly aggressive stand to avoid any appearance of not upholding Taiwanese interests.

Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, warned "Taiwanese media" on August 22 in Beijing against irresponsible and groundless accusations, "lest cross-strait relations be negatively impacted".