Edward Lin case: One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel of Chinese Americans

(From Chinese World Journal)

US media has been reporting the case of Lt. Commander Edward Lin (Lin Chieh-Liang), who was charged with espionage for leaking secret information from the (US military) to mainland China or Taiwan. Due to the issue’s sensitivity, few details have been publicly disclosed.

Questions such as how Lin was detected, what was leaked, what were his influencing factors, and whether mainland China or Taiwan were behind his actions all remain to be answered.

The military rivalry between the US and China in the South China Sea and the East China Sea is increasingly intense. The revelation of Lin’s case after 8 months of imprisonment makes it look like Chinese spies have re-emerged and that Chinese Americans working in high-sensitivity industry roles are at high risk. As the saying goes, one rotten apple spoils the barrel. Lin’s case impacts all Chinese Americans. Those working in highly sensitive industries in the US will need to be careful and be discreet from now on to avoid cases of “witch hunting.”

Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin

Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin

Lin immigrated from Taiwan when he was 14. He joined the US Navy and participated in intelligence-gathering operations. He could have become a spy out of desire for rewards, or he might have always been an undercover agent, or he might have underestimated the significance of the information he was leaking. All this remains to be seen.

Lin’s case is reminding Chinese Americans of a series of “Chinese spy” cases in recent years. More than ten Chinese spies have been charged with stealing military technology and trade secrets in the last two years. They include hydrologist Xiafen Chen and Temple University professor Xiaoxing Xi. Of the 200,000 Chinese overseas students in the US, some are believed to be spies, too.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese immigrants and students are deemed more trustworthy, or at least the background checks carried out on them when entering sensitive industries are usually not as rigorous as with mainlanders. This is because Taiwan and the US are strategic allies with military ties, while China and the US are at loggerheads on ideological grounds.

But as cross-strait exchanges deepen, the relationships between China, Taiwan and the US are changing. China welcomes Taiwanese immigrants and even recruits Chinese Americans to conduct intelligence operations. Taiwan’s military has detected several mainland spies in recent years. Meanwhile, the US and Taiwan spy on each other, too.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has denied involvement in Lin’s case. But some US media have reported that Taiwan’s government had previously contacted Lin. If Lin only provided information to Taiwan, rather than the mainland, the damage to the US side might be smaller.

Then-Lt. Edward C. Lin

Then-Lt. Edward C. Lin

The information leaked touched on the (US military’s) most advanced technology. In light of tensions between China and the US, if one side gets a hold of the other’s information, it stands to benefit tremendously. If Lin did have specialization in reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering operations, he should have kept his nose clean. His case has fueled US anxiety regarding the threat from China. It has also put Chinese Americans working in sensitive industries in a tough spot.

Lin’s travels to Taiwan and the mainland have always been under FBI and military scrutiny. If his (actual) activities differed from what he reported, he might get into trouble whether he is a spy or not.

Some say he never hid his contempt for mainland China. It could be his political stance or him catering to the (US military) environment. But in either case, if he did break the law, he should be punished. On the flip side, if he’s proved innocent, the case would represent a great embarrassment to the US, and a warning sign of witch hunting to Chinese immigrants.

Espionage is a sin for Chinese Americans. Some people think Chinese Americans should stay away from sensitive industries in order to avoid trouble. But we should not constrain the career development of immigrant offspring. After all, the US is a country based on the rule of law. To protect ourselves, Chinese immigrants should demonstrate high self-discipline, and abide by the law.

This editorial was first published in Mandarin the New York-based Chinese World Journal on April 13, 2016.  It was translated and posted with their permission.

Translated for Asia Times by Jiawen Guo.

Copyright Chinese World Journal



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