Taiwan detains Chinese student on suspicion of spying

TAIPEI • The Taiwanese authorities detained a Chinese student on suspicion of breaching national security laws, in an unusual espionage case involving a Chinese student on the self-ruled island.

"A man named Zhou Hongxu has been detained," Mr Liao Chien-yu, a judge and spokesman for the Taipei District Court, told Reuters.

Taiwan's media identified the man as 29-year-old Zhou Hongxu from China's Liaoning province, citing his Facebook account.

Mr Liao told Reuters the named suspect was the same individual being cited in local media reports.

Prosecutors asked that Mr Zhou be taken into custody on suspicion of violating national security laws and the request was approved by the court, Mr Liao said, adding that Mr Zhou could be held for at least two months.

Mr Zhou went to Taiwan in September 2012 to enrol in a business administration course at the National Chengchi University, graduating in July last year, the Taiwanese media reported.

The college's records indicate that he is a member of the Communist Youth League, the reports said.

The United Daily News (UDN), citing the Ministry of Justice's Investigation Bureau, said Mr Zhou last month allegedly tried to entice an official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hand over confidential documents, using a "junket" to Japan as bait.

The official would then be paid in US dollars through an offshore account, according to the bureau's investigation cited by UDN.

Mr Zhou had made the acquaintance of the Foreign Ministry official he allegedly tried to recruit during his time in Taiwan.

He also is said to have tried to draw the official into divulging work-related information during their conversation on Weixin, China's social messaging app.

The official, smelling a rat, reported Mr Zhou's overtures to his superior, UDN said.

Taiwan's Education Ministry said it was looking into the case.

The Mainland Affairs Council, which decides policy towards China, said the island would continue to welcome exchange students from China - a policy introduced in 2011 amid falling enrolment at Taiwan universities.

"Our policy is unchanged on mainland Chinese students coming to Taiwan for studies.

"Mainland Chinese students pursuing studies in Taiwan should respect our laws and their purpose should be to learn," it said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan detains Chinese student on suspicion of spying'. Print Edition | Subscribe