China's state-run news agency, Xinhua, confirmed on Wednesday that mainland authorities have arrested 24 Taiwanese and 19 mainland citizens accused of spying for Taiwan. Reports of the arrests follow recent remarks by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, who gave the locations of 496 Chinese missiles pointed at the island.
A Hong Kong newspaper this week reported that mainland authorities had busted a spy ring after Mr. Chen made his comments, which embarrassed the Chinese government and the People's Liberation Army.
Security expert and politics professor Philip Yang at Taiwan University agrees that the arrests appear to be linked to the Taiwanese leader's remarks. "Beijing, also the PLA, and especially the intelligence section in China have to respond to this kind of proclamation, to an accurate description of the number and location of the missiles."
Taiwan and China often accuse one another of spying, and China has in the past carried out mass arrests of people it labels spies.
Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, when Chinese Nationalists fled there following their defeat to Communist forces on the mainland. China's Communist government has vowed to take the island by force if it declares independence or fails to move toward unification.
Tensions across the straits have risen recently as the issue of independence takes center stage ahead of Taiwan's presidential election in March. President Chen, whose party favors independence, will seek reelection. He has angered Beijing by scheduling an election day referendum on whether to demand that China stop pointing missiles at the island.
A Taiwanese presidential spokesman downplayed the reports of the arrested spies. The spokesman says the information about the missiles is widely available and the general public can find it on the Internet. China has not revealed the identities of those arrested, nor has it provided details of the alleged spying operation.
Taiwan on Wednesday denied that any of its intelligence agents were detained on the mainland.