China `smashes' Taiwan spy ring

SINGAPORE Dec. 24. China today announced that its "state security departments'' had `smashed' a Taiwan-linked spy ring.

Two dozen Taiwanese and 19 belonging to China's mainland were interrogated "strictly in accordance with the law''. The suspects had "conducted activities in violation of the law'', the state news agency said. The arrested were not named and there was no authoritative indication about the nature of their deeds. It is also not clear when they were arrested. The criminal case is said to be under further investigation, though the suspects had `confessed'. The political significance of this disclosure can be traced to the upsurge in tensions between Beijing and Taipei. Beijing regards Taiwan as part of the People's Republic of China under the `one-China principle', which the international community, inclusive of the U.S., has endorsed.

A strand of speculation in the Asia-Pacific diplomatic circles is that the spy issue should be seen in the context of a recent disclosure by the Taiwanese President, Chen Shui-bian, detailing the locations of nearly 500 Chinese ballistic missiles which, he maintained, were deployed in the `direction' of Taiwan.

Another aspect is Mr. Chen's insistence on holding some form of referendum on Taiwan's future, in spite of the stated opposition from the U.S. President, George W. Bush. Mr. Chen has not so far given up his plan to hold a plebiscite on the ballistic missile issue to coincide with the non-sovereign territory's presidential election in March.

He said the Taiwanese would be asked to answer the question whether they would want China to remove the missiles.

This was described as a "defensive referendum'' under a `law' that was passed only recently. Beijing tends to view the plebiscite plan as a definitive step towards "Taiwanese independence''.

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