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Editor’s Note: This piece by Kelly Ng features quotes from CSP Senior Fellow, Grant Newsham.

Taiwan is taking aim at China’s alleged “communist spies” ahead of a crucial presidential election, where the island’s relationship with Beijing will be on the ballot.

Taiwan and China have been spying on each other since 1949, when Chinese nationalists set up a separate government in Taipei opposing Mao Zedong’s communist China.

In the last 10 months, Taiwanese authorities have handed down a steady stream of charges and convictions – proof, they say, that Beijing’s espionage strategy has intensified and expanded beyond elite military circles. Retired air force colonel Liu Sheng-shu was sentenced to 20 years in prison in October for running a military spy ring for Beijing.

Taiwan is an easy target for Chinese spies, says Grant Newsham, a retired US Marine Corps colonel who has served for decades in the Indo-Pacific.

Proximity to China and the fact that most Taiwanese speak the Chinese language helps, but the island is also “not very strict” about punishing espionage, he adds. “This has an effect on willingness to spy for China, if you think the ‘downside risks’ aren’t so serious.”

Mr Newsham also says Taiwan did not have a robust system for restricting access to classified information until recently.

“If you’re not controlling sensitive and secret information very well… You should expect any competent foreign intelligence service to get access to it. That’s played out in Taiwan for a long, long time.”

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