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September 21, 2017

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Spying charges against ex-MAC official carry grave implications

Political observers in Taiwan may have thought it yet another piece of evidence of the Ma administration's instability and low morale when Chang Hsien-yao was sacked this week from the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), but it has since developed into one of the most intriguing episodes in the history of Taiwanese politics.

The spying charges against the MAC's former deputy minister will carry very grave consequences, whatever conclusion the investigation may reach.

Many observers have already pointed out that if Chang were indeed a spy for China, then all of the cross-strait agreements with which he has been involved might become invalid.

Worse still, cross-strait trust would crumble and rebuilding it would be next to impossible for the near future.

The Cross-strait Trade in Services Pact, which has been sitting idle at the Legislature for months pending parliamentary finalization, now stands little chance of getting the approval that President Ma Ying-jeou has been so eager to obtain.

Now the student-led Sunflower Movement that occupied the Legislature compound for weeks to protest the pact can sit back and watch it get defeated by the allegations.

The government can now forget about the ongoing negotiations with China over the signing of a massive agreement on shipping goods across the strait. Until the allegations against Chang are clarified and until mutual trust is rebuilt, no negotiations will be possible.

Beijing's response to the spying charges has so far been very low-key, but the latest developments will probably make China rethink its cross-strait dealings.

While a China-friendly administration — despite its latest "unfriendly" espionage accusations — forms an important base for cross-strait ties, Beijing must have already realized that a president as incompetent as Ma may not be relied on for advancing its agenda.

Could this be a reason for Beijing to plant a mole in the Ma administration to help it advance their agenda?

There has been speculation that some pro-Washington force within Taiwan was behind a plot to bring down the "overly" pro-Beijing Chang.

It is one of many conspiracy theories we have seen in the wake of Chang's sacking. And we have to point out that all we have seen so far is pure speculation and allegations.

Neither the MAC nor investigators seem to have substantial evidence of the spying charges, or else Chang would have already been arrested and would not have been able to stage his "theatrics" to clear his name on TV and at a press conference.

Chang claims the spy charges are an act of "white terror" against him. He claims the president has been misinformed by a "minor few" into making a decision to dismiss him.

He did not identify those "minor few," but he was likely referring to Ma's small inner circle, to which the former MAC deputy minister does not belong.

But that group does include Chang's former boss, MAC chief Wang Yu-chi, and National Security Council Secretary General King Pu-tsun.

At any rate, Ma may have indeed been misinformed: if Chang was a spy, the president's cross-strait policies could have been redirected by this mole who was second-in-command in the Chinese policy-making body; if Chang was not a spy, the president might have been misled by those "minor few" into making the bad decision to sack him.

Ma has very few political friends outside his inner circle. The spying drama may further drive him to rely more on those few he trusts inside this small group.

The president has often been criticized for relying too heavily on his inner circle, which has prevented him from thinking outside of the box.

If he further indulges himself in the complacency offered by this group, we can brace for more intriguing episodes to come in the rest of his presidential term.

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