Chinook Espionage: Taiwanese Lieutenant Colonel Arrested in Alleged Defection Plot to China

Plan involved landing Chinook helicopter on a Chinese aircraft carrier during military drill close to Taiwan
  • bureau
  • 12:57 PM, December 12, 2023
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Chinook Espionage: Taiwanese Lieutenant Colonel Arrested in Alleged Defection Plot to China
Chinook helicopters

A lieutenant colonel from Taiwan Army’s Aviation and Special Forces Command has been arrested by prosecutors for allegedly planning to defect to China by flying a CH-47F Chinook helicopter to a Chinese aircraft carrier near the median line of the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense announced on December 11 that proactive measures have been implemented to thwart Chinese espionage activities. This follows reports of a plot involving a U.S.-origin Chinook helicopter, allegedly schemed by Beijing.

Lieutenant Colonel Hsieh, based in the army’s Aviation and Special Forces Command, was approached by Chinese officers proposing evacuation of his family to Thailand in case of cross-strait conflict and providing him with NT$200,000 per month. In exchange, he was asked to pilot a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to a Chinese aircraft carrier in the Taiwan Strait for $15 million, covering half the helicopter’s cost, Taiwan’s media reported. The detailed plan involved landing on the Chinese aircraft carrier during a military drill when it passed within 24 nautical miles of Taiwan.

Initially declining, Hsieh later accepted. Investigators uncovered the espionage ring in April, leading to the arrest of Hsieh and other implicated individuals. The High Prosecutors’ Office had earlier disclosed an ongoing investigation into Hsieh for allegedly divulging defense secrets to Chinese spies.

Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng acknowledged the impact of Beijing’s attempts to entice Taiwanese individuals, ensuring transparent sharing of information and collaboration with the courts. The military has strengthened response measures against various espionage methods. Recent cases, largely reported by officers themselves, enable prompt and thorough investigations. An internal inquiry was conducted, and information provided to the judiciary. Investigations at the Command headquarters in Taoyuan revealed “concrete evidence” of illegal activities.

China's Escalating Espionage Activities

China's escalating pressure on Taiwan, claiming it as part of its territory, has led to heightened military and political tensions.

Over the past decade, court records and official news agencies reveal that at least 21 Taiwanese officers have been convicted of engaging in espionage activities for China, with 16 people accused since the start of 2023— a notable increase from the 44 cases recorded between 2013 and 2019.

This surge in espionage activities aligns with the lead-up to Taiwan’s presidential election on January 13. Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel, identifies Taiwan as an attractive target due to its proximity and shared language. Taiwan's lax counterespionage measures make it vulnerable to infiltration, as highlighted by recent arrests in July and October.

Taiwan's National Security Bureau Director-General, Tsai Ming-Yen, describes Beijing's "war without gunfire" against Taiwan, involving incursions, diplomatic isolation, import bans, and cyberattacks.

As the election approaches, increased interference from China is anticipated.

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