An Old Taiwan Spy, Drifting Like Flotsam
Chinese Native, Jailed for 13 Years in Shanghai, Is One of Scores Seeking Compensation From Taipei
HONG KONG, April 7 — iang Jianguo was no James Bond. As a spy for Taiwan, he acknowledged, his biggest exploit was getting a map of the Shanghai port. But he did what he was told by his Taiwanese spymasters and spent 13 years in Shanghai’s Tilanqiao Prison after Chinese counterespionage agents caught him in a sting.
Now, the Chinese national said in a lengthy interview here, he believes that Taiwan’s government owes him for the risks he took and the time he served. Specifically, he said, he wants back salary for the long jail stretch, a decent monthly pension and a residence visa allowing him to live out the rest of his life in Taiwan. As for the whereabouts of his missing wife and daughter, he said, he is willing to consider that water over the dam as far as Taiwan is concerned.
Taiwan has rejected his demands, however, and Jiang, a gaunt 73, has become a piece of collateral damage in the shadow war between the Chinese and Taiwanese intelligence agencies. Along with dozens of other Chinese recruited by Taiwan and imprisoned for espionage over the years, he has been left drifting like flotsam since his release, despised as a traitor by his own government and dismissed as too demanding by the Taiwanese government.
Jiang’s two-year career as a spy — one chapter in a life ripped apart by China’s tumultuous recent history — provides a rare glimpse of the relentless espionage between mainland China and Taiwan. Although China is the world’s most populous country and Taiwan only a little island 100 miles offshore, each government is the other’s main intelligence target. In particular, each devotes large amounts of human and financial resources to obtaining information on the other’s military every year.
Jiang, once an asset but no longer useful in the spy war, spent most of March in Taipei dunning the Taiwan Military Intelligence Bureau for what he believes he is due. After 26 days and several tense meetings, he said, the Taiwanese espionage agency said it concluded that Jiang has no claim on such financial support and no right to a residence visa. Jiang said a senior bureau official told him as much Wednesday and ordered him not to speak publicly about his work for the service, warning that under Taiwanese law he could be jailed again if he did.
“I told them, ‘I was your man then, and I should be your man now,’ ” Jiang said, heedless of the warning. “What kind of a government is that? I was very disappointed.”
The Taiwanese spy agency, responding to an inquiry, said it had decided Jiang was ineligible for benefits because he had never been a full-time Taiwanese Defense Ministry employee and that the government had fulfilled its obligations with payments that Jiang said totaled $36,000 to help meet medical expenses after his
Jrelease from prison in 2001.
With regard to Jianguo’s case, “the Military Intelligence Bureau has already made compensation according to his relative rights and interests, in December 2001,” the spy agency said in a statement issued in Taipei. “In considering Jiang’s situation and based on the old-time fellowship, the bureau did whatever it could to help him, according to the regulations.”
Jiang said he got started in the espionage business without really intending to, and without realizing how cold-hearted it could be.
In the 1980s, he was running a trading company based in Hong Kong. One of his money-making tricks, he said, was to buy silk garments in China, relabel them to indicate they were made in the Philippines and export them to Taiwan, where Chinese-made goods were banned.
An alert customs officer in Taiwan spotted the ruse in one shipment in 1985, however, and Jiang risked losing a considerable investment. A friend with connections to the then-ruling Nationalist Party said he might be able to help, Jiang said, and soon a man showed up saying he could fix the problem if Jiang would agree to spy for Taiwan during his frequent trips to the mainland.
“I agreed to sign up, because I had no choice at the time,” Jiang said. “I wanted to resolve the customs issue as soon as possible. They gave me a form to fill out. And I also took an oath,” he added, raising his hand to show how he was sworn in. “It said I had to be loyal to the Republic of China or else I would be heavily punished and even my family members would be affected.”
Jiang had no ideological problems with his new mission. A surgeon who had graduated from the Shanghai Second Medical Institute, he was torn from his medical practice during the Cultural Revolution and sent from town to town doing menial work that at one point included cleaning community toilets. Jiang’s “crime” was that his father, a successful businessman who had fled Shanghai for Hong Kong, was labeled a reactionary.
“The bitterest of the bitter, I ate it,” Jiang recalled of that turmoil-ridden era.
As the country was regaining its senses under Deng Xiaoping in 1981, Jiang was allowed to leave the mainland, which he had been petitioning to do since his father’s death in 1978. He arrived in Hong Kong, then a British colony, but could not practice medicine because he could speak neither English nor Cantonese and had no way to qualify. So he picked up the pieces of his father’s business and began the trading that four years later led him to espionage.
Jiang said he gained possession of the Shanghai port map and other information on maritime traffic in 1986 because his company was considering investing in a $40 million development project soon to begin there. When they learned what Jiang had obtained, elated Taiwan intelligence agents flew him to Taiwan and gave him a $4,000 bonus, he recalled.
In normal times, Jiang said, Taiwan’s military intelligence paid him $3,500 a month while he was in Hong Kong and $4,000 a month when he was traveling in the mainland.
Jiang said that during a business trip to Shanghai in 1987, some business acquaintances urged him to travel with them to Dalian, a northeastern Chinese commercial port that is also the site of a major naval base.
“They took me to a military port and asked me to take pictures,” he recalled. “At first, I refused to do so, because there were signs on the fence saying no photography by foreigners. But they said it would be fine because we were only tourists and we were Chinese. I was from Hong Kong, and Hong Kong was really part of China, they told me.”
On his return to Shanghai, Jiang was arrested by Chinese National Security Bureau agents, who proudly called their catch “a big fish.” In the course of long interrogations, they produced photographs showing him meeting with business and intelligence contacts in Hong Kong and even with intelligence officers in Taiwan.
“I suspected some of my business partners were their people,” Jiang said, recalling his reaction at seeing the photos. “One of the interrogators said to me, ‘You have people inside us, and we also have people inside you.’ ”
On his release from prison 13 years and four months later, Jiang was broke and unsure of what had happened to his family. He returned to Hong Kong and contacted the Chung Hwa Travel Service, which he said was acting as a de facto Taiwanese embassy. Staff members recommended a cheap hostel but offered no money.
The hostel’s owner recommended he apply for benefits to the Hong Kong Social Welfare Department, which has been supplying him with about $390 a month ever since. Jiang said he bolsters the welfare payments by picking up rubbish and selling it to recycling companies. He also found time to found the Cross-Strait Relations Victims Association, a group of about 60 former spies seeking compensation from Taiwan.
Although he has made inquiries through the Red Cross, Jiang said he has been unable to discover any trace of his wife and daughter over the last five years. They must have emigrated to another country during his years in prison, he speculated.
“I also asked the Taiwan authorities for help, but I got no reply,” he said. “I understand that my wife might have married another man and started a new family. She might not want to see me again. But what about my daughter? Was she killed? Or where has she gone? I want to know.” Special correspondent Jane Rickards in Taipei contributed to this report.