China Says It Foiled Major Taiwan Spy Network As Taipei Denounces "Malicious Political Stunt"

In what could be used as a possible pretext for war or at least as huge leverage amid increased threats, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCT) claimed in Sunday reporting that Beijing national security authorities have recently exposed and rounded up hundreds of “espionage cases” in a special operation targeting “infiltration and sabotage” of the mainland by Taiwan’s intelligence agencies

The mass dragnet operation led to the detention of Taiwanese spies and assets, and uncovering of sophisticated networks in what CCTV has dubbed the “Thunder 2020” operation, the report claimed, which set off a firestorm in Taipei. Taiwan has since angrily denounced the claims as nothing but a “malicious political stunt”.

This included CCTV's main current affairs show airing bizarre footage of a Taiwanese businessman "confessing" that he spied on People’s Liberation Army exercises at a stadium last year in Shenzhen, making multiple videos of the make-shift staging ground at the sensitive moment of the Hong Kong crisis, as also reported in Bloomberg. Specifically it appears a group which could be in the "hundreds" are charged with gaining Chinese military intelligence related to the Hong Kong crackdown.

CCTV photo of spy suspect Lee Meng-Chu, who was detained in Shenzhen last year.

Identified as Lee Meng-chu, he was accused of “spying into state secrets for an overseas organization and endangering national security,” according to the state TV program. Part of the alleged 'evidence' is that he shared his spy photos with Taiwan connected chat groups. He was also alleged to have communicated Chinese state secrets, but again it appears to involve taking photos at a stadium which happened to also have warnings posted saying "no photographs".

At a moment the Hong Kong protests raged, resulting in a mainland crackdown crisis for which Chinese national troops were mustered in case they were needed, the Financial Times apparently reported the movement of PLA troops based on the alleged Taiwan spy network. However, this also appears a mere case of citizen-journalism driven by clear public interest, which Beijing is labeling 'espionage'

Addressing the public confession on state TV, officials of Taiwan's government condemned the whole spectacle, saying, “The CCP must stop putting words in others’ mouths and framing a case against Taiwanese,” according to Bloomberg.

Broadly, it appears those among the accused acting as 'spies' were part of Taiwanese activism showing solidarity with the plight of the Hong Kong pro-independence movement last year, prior to the movement's squelching by the controversial China-backed national security law which went into effect over the summer. 

Interestingly, or perhaps quite intentionally, the bombshell accusations by the mainland came just a day after  Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen extended a rare olive branch at a moment of military tensions, calling for “meaningful dialogue” with China.

The other big, persistent charge is that of "collusion" between Taiwan and Washington, based especially on weapons sales and fears that formal diplomatic relations could be restored in the near future.