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China Releases Names of Some Taiwanese Spy Suspects - 2004-01-14

China has released the names of seven of the 24 Taiwanese nationals it arrested last month on charges of espionage. The disclosure of the names is seen as a move by the mainland to discredit Taiwan's pro-independence president.

Li Weiyi, spokesman for the Chinese cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office, said Wednesday the cases of the seven people have been handed over to the courts. He said China's investigation confirmed that the seven people were spies working for the Taiwan Defense Ministry's Military Intelligence Bureau.

Taiwan say those arrested were not its agents.

Analysts say China's disclosure of the suspects' names was meant to damage Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's chances for re-election in March. Beijing accuses Mr. Chen of rallying pro-independence sentiments on the island, which China considers part of its territory.

"It's one of the efforts by China to discredit President Chen Shui-bian's leadership and these comments he made in terms of the numbers of missiles," said security expert Philip Yang, who teaches politics at Taiwan University.

Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, when Nationalists fled there following their defeat in a civil war that ended with the Communist takeover of the mainland.

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have risen since November, when Mr. Chen and his supporters pushed through legislation for referendums. The measures allow him to call plebiscites in limited cases where the island faces an imminent threat from the outside.

Mr. Chen has further angered Beijing by using the law to schedule a March referendum on whether to demand that China stop pointing what he says are hundreds of missiles at the island.

Published reports last month said China made the arrests after the Taiwanese president gave a speech listing the locations of 496 Chinese missiles. The president's spokesman defended the speech, saying the information is public and is even available on the Internet.