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Originally published Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 3:56 AM

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Taiwanese officer accused of spying for China

Taiwan's defense ministry said Wednesday that an air force officer has been detained on suspicion of passing military secrets to China, the latest case involving the transmission of classified information from the democratic island to the communist mainland.

The Associated Press

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TAIPEI, Taiwan —

Taiwan's defense ministry said Wednesday that an air force officer has been detained on suspicion of passing military secrets to China, the latest case involving the transmission of classified information from the democratic island to the communist mainland.

Taiwan and China split after a civil war in 1949, and, although their relations have improved significantly in recent years, they still mount extensive espionage operations against each other.

Many of the recent cases appear to involve military technology supplied to Taiwan by the United States, raising the possibility that Washington might be getting anxious over Taiwan's putative role as a preferred conduit for Chinese intelligence agents seeking access to American military secrets.

The spokesman at the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

In the latest China espionage case, the defense ministry said the air force officer detained by the military worked at a ground command center in northern Taiwan. The officer was not identified.

Local news reports say the officer passed to Chinese authorities information about Taiwan's early warning radar system and other secrets through a Taiwanese businessman working in China.

The Defense Ministry said measures have been taken to minimize damage from the leak.

Earlier cases also involved air defense and command and control systems.

Last August, Taiwan's High Court sentenced a Taiwanese man to 18 months in prison for spying for China, in what defense officials said was a foiled Chinese effort to obtain information on Taiwan's U.S.-made Patriot air defense system.

A month before, a Taiwanese major general was sentenced to life for his role in compromising a vital military communications network that uses U.S. technology.

Lo Hsien-che was recruited by the Chinese as a spy in 2004, when he was a military attache based overseas. He later headed the army command's communications office.

International relations specialist George Tsai of Taipei's Chinese Culture University said that while Taiwan was not the only recipient of U.S. military equipment and technology engendering Washington's suspicions over leaks, the latest rash of cases could result in more American scrutiny being directed at the island.

"Probably the U.S. will keep a closer eye on Taiwan, and watch for possible leakage," he said.

Despite shifting recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, the U.S. remains Taiwan's most important foreign partner, furnishing the island with virtually all of its imported military technology and equipment.

Over the past decade, American military sales to Taiwan have averaged more than $1 billion annually. Late last year, for example, Washington announced a substantial upgrade of Taiwan's aging fleet of U.S.-made F-16 jet fighters, while turning down a Taiwanese request to supply a relatively advanced model of the warplane.

Most analysts believe that the main reason for the American denial was fear of provoking a hostile reaction from China - which strongly opposes the supply of any foreign military equipment to an island it regards as its own territory - rather than any fear of sensitive military technology making its way to Beijing.

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