A Chinese-born U.S. citizen who lives in New York and runs a U.S.-based trading company has been imprisoned since September on suspicion of spying for Taiwan for the past 14 years, official Chinese news media reported Wednesday.
David Wei Dong, also known as Dong Wei, was accused of taking $3,000 a month from Taiwan's National Security Bureau and its military intelligence agency, according to China Daily and the Global Times, two Beijing-based newspapers controlled by the government.
Dong, 52, was paid to collect information about Beijing's activities in the United States and attitudes toward Taiwan's political and economic affairs, the newspapers said. Dong also set up a foundation at St. John's University in New York with money from the military intelligence agency to bring students to the United States from mainland China who later could be recruited as Taiwanese spies, according to the unusually detailed reports, which quoted Chinese officials. In New York, Christine Dolan, a spokeswoman for St. John's, declined to comment.
A telephone listed in Dong's name in New York was answered by a man speaking Chinese-accented English who said Dong did not live there.
Both China and Taiwan have often announced arrests on espionage charges in the larger context of the standoff between their governments, focused on China's insistence that Taiwan reunite with the mainland. Last December, for instance, soon after Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian revealed the locations of nearly 500 short-range missiles on China's southern coast, China announced that 43 people from Taiwan and the mainland had been arrested for spying.
Dong's case is considered notable because he is a U.S. citizen and entitled to consular protection. The last U.S. citizen arrested on charges of spying for Taiwan, Li Shaomin, a professor at the City University of Hong Kong, was held for five months, convicted and expelled in July 2001. He later said the charges were false.
It was unclear why the arrest and detention of Dong was announced now. The newspapers said he was taken into custody in the southern city of Guangzhou shortly after entering China 10 months ago on what he described as a business trip. The Global Times said Dong had confessed and that his case "has gone into the judicial procedure," suggesting the investigation was complete and the results ready for presentation in court. Without citing sources, the Global Times predicted that Dong would be convicted and would serve a sentence in China.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said U.S. consular officials in Guangzhou were notified at the time of Dong's arrest and, according to international convention, have visited him in prison regularly. The last visit was June 4, a spokeswoman said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing did not respond to requests for comment. Similarly, a spokesman for Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said he had not heard of the allegations against Dong.
The newspapers said Dong was born in Sichuan province and had been a newspaper reporter before going to the United States to study in 1986. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1995, the reports said, and his reporting background allowed him to move quickly into official Chinese circles in the United States.
His position made him attractive to Taiwan's agents, the newspapers said. Dong was recruited by a high-ranking Taiwanese intelligence agent, identified as Peter Wang, or Wang Xitian, during a trip to Singapore in 1990, the reports said.
Dong is deputy chairman and chief executive officer of the American Industrial Products Distributing Center, the Global Times reported. The newspaper did not describe the company's business or where it is based. But it said Taiwan's intelligence agencies gave Dong $268,000 to buy a house and office in New York in addition to his salary and a $7,000 "activity fund."
The reports also said that Dong told interrogators that he worked with Taiwanese lobbyists in the United States and that they paid "large sums" to U.S. consulting companies and foundations to curry support for Taiwan in Washington.
Chinese officials have recently expressed frustration over the Bush administration's willingness to sell arms to and do business with Taiwan despite the United States' longtime "one China" policy, under which it does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. A foreign policy specialist with ties to the government said officials are particularly worried that Taiwan might interpret the U.S. action as acceptance of steps toward formal Taiwanese independence, which China has defined as a likely provocation for war.