Two executives of a Hong Kong-listed company who have been detained for a month in Taiwan amid spying allegations are seeking help from the Hong Kong government.
China Innovation Investment Limited said in a statement on Friday that its chief executive Xiang Xin and his wife Kung Ching, an alternate director, had instructed their lawyers to send a letter seeking assistance to the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office – the city’s representative office in Taiwan.
The statement said Xiang and Kung hoped to “resolve the issue of restrictions on the basic human rights of Hong Kong permanent residents through official channels”.
China Trends Holdings Limited, another company owned by Xiang, issued a similar statement on Friday.
The lawyers were instructed to send the letter after the Taipei District Court rejected appeals filed by Xiang and Kung on December 17, and ruled in favour of the prosecutors’ decision to bar them from leaving the island.
Taiwanese prosecutors began investigating the pair after Wang Liqiang, a self-proclaimed former Chinese spy seeking asylum in Australia, alleged last month that he had been embedded in the company and had been working for Chinese intelligence to intervene in Taiwan’s upcoming elections.
A Hong Kong government spokeswoman on Saturday said the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office in Taiwan had not yet received any request for assistance from Xiang and Kung.
She said when a request was received from a Hong Kong resident in Taiwan, “we would liaise with the Immigration Department and provide assistance to the extent possible, but we cannot intervene in the judicial system or administrative operations of Taiwan”.
Xiang and Kung were taken away by investigators as they were about to board a flight at Taipei’s Taoyuan airport on the evening of November 24, the day after Wang made his allegations.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice ordered that the couple remain on the island while they were investigated on suspicion of violating its national security act.
China Innovation Investment has denied any wrongdoing and stated that Wang was not one of its employees.
According to news site Liberty Times Net, Taiwanese prosecutors were looking into the couple’s bank accounts, and who they had met in Taiwan. Kung reportedly told prosecutors they had travelled to Taiwan to meet local businesspeople about investment opportunities after their bid for a NT$100 million (US$3.3 million) real estate project on the island was rejected in 2016.
Beijing views Taiwan as a renegade province that should be brought back under mainland control, by force if necessary. It has ramped up pressure on the self-ruled island, staging war games nearby and poaching its diplomatic allies, since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.
Tsai, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, has repeatedly accused Beijing of meddling in the run-up to the presidential and legislative elections, which take place on January 11.
Tsai and the DPP are also pushing for a law that could criminalise political activities backed by Chinese funding before next month’s elections. The anti-infiltration bill, which critics say will incite hostility and restrict normal exchanges across the Taiwan Strait, will go through a third reading on December 31, when it may pass into law.
The latest opinion polls have put Tsai, who is seeking a second term, well ahead of her rival Han Kuo-yu, from the Beijing-friendly opposition Kuomintang party.
In his confession to Australia media in November, Wang, 26, claimed that he had undertaken undercover espionage work in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia. Beijing said Wang was a fugitive in a fraud case and that his Chinese passport and Hong Kong permanent resident identity card were forged. The Australian government said it was investigating the case, but The Daily Telegraph reported earlier this month that Australian intelligence officials had briefed Prime Minister Scott Morrison on their assessment that Wang was not a Chinese spy “at a level that would attract any interest from Australia”.
Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.