Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called on Tuesday for a full investigation into allegations by a Chinese defector that China has been using a Hong Kong-based real estate company as cover to infiltrate the democratic island and influence its politics and media.
Wang Liqiang, also known as William Wang, is currently in hiding in Sydney with his wife and child after making information available to Australian intelligence officers about Beijing's overseas infiltration and influence campaigns.
China has denied Wang is who he claims to be, publishing documents indicating that he is wanted for fraud. Australia's intelligence agency is currently in the process of verifying Wang's information.
But Taiwan on Monday said it had detained Xiang Xin and Kung Ching, two directors of the Hong Kong-based China Innovation Investment firm at the Taoyuan International Airport after the company was mentioned in media reports of Wang's defection.
The pair are helping Taiwan authorities with their inquiries, and appeared on Tuesday to have no restrictions on their movements around the capital, Taipei, local media reported.
"The most important thing to remember is that Chinese infiltration in Taiwanese society and Chinese interference in Taiwan's elections is something that happens every moment of every day," Tsai, who is seeking re-election in 2020, told journalists.
"As a presidential election candidate, this is something that I need to be very clear about, and I hope the people [of Taiwan] are clear about that too," she said.
"At the same time, we have to be very aware that democracy doesn't just fall from the sky; it needs protecting," Tsai warned. "We must all do our part to protect our freedom and democracy."
National security laws
Xiang and Kung are being questioned over suspected violation of national security laws, and are currently unable to leave the country.
Taiwan's official Central News Agency said the Taiwan Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Bureau had prevented them from leaving via Taipei's Taoyuan International Airport at 9.00 p.m. on Monday.
The couple are suspected of violating Article 2, section 1 of the law, which forbids people to "set up, finance, host, manipulate, direct or develop organizations on behalf of [China]."
If found guilty, those who break this law can receive a jail term of more than seven years and a multimillion-dollar fine.
Wang alleged that Xiang and Kung's company was used as cover for the ruling Chinese Communist Party to wield political influence in Taiwan and Hong Kong, via the media and other organizations.
Xiang, Kung and others had applied to the Investment Review Commission for approval for a NT$100 million investment on Dec. 30, 2016, officials said.
Chang Ming-bin, executive secretary of the Investment Review Commission under the ministry of economic affairs, said China Innovation Investment's history was "not straightforward," and that it had been turned down for an investment application on national security grounds as early as 2016.
"This company is engaged in real-estate purchase, leasing and management consultancy," Chang told journalists. "The listed company has many records of cooperation with the Chinese military, so in the end it was believed that it affected national security."
Former student protest leader and New Power Party lawmaker Huang Kuo-chang said it was impossible to comment on the case while investigations were under way.
But he said the laws defending Taiwan's national security are full of loopholes and carry weak punishments.
"The existing law on those behaviors is either impossible to work with, or the punishments are ridiculously lenient, and lack any deterrent effect," Huang said.
Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Ching-kuo in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.
Beijing wants to rule Taiwan under the "one country, two systems" concept used to take back the former colonial cities of Hong Kong and Macau, and has refused to rule out annexing the island by force.
Tsai has repeatedly said that Taiwan's 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty.
She has also been an outspoken critic of the Hong Kong government since the anti-extradition, pro-democracy protest movement gripped the city in early June, and has repeatedly warned that Taiwan could suffer a similar loss of freedom and democracy if it entertains China's plan.
Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hwang Chun-mei for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.