TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan has swapped jailed spies with political foe China in an unprecedented goodwill gesture following this month’s historic meeting between the leaders of the two sides, the island’s government said on Monday.
China released Colonel Zhu Gongxun and Colonel Xu Changguo of Taiwan’s Military Intelligence after they had been held for more than nine years, while Taiwan gave advance parole to Chinese spy Li Zhihao, according to a statement from the office of Taiwan’s president.
“This is based on a mutual goodwill gesture delivered by the Ma-Xi meeting,” presidential spokesman Charles Chen said in the statement.
“President Ma (Ying-jeou) hopes cross-strait mutual exchanges can continue and make more concrete achievements in the future,” Chen added.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office confirmed the release of Zhu and Xu, saying the pair had served a sentence for harming the mainland’s national security.
“The relevant judicial authorities released Zhu and Xu on parole in accordance with the law”, it said in a fax message.
Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in November for the first time in more than 60 years for talks that came amid rising anti-Chinese sentiment on the self-ruled democratic island and weeks ahead of elections.
Ma’s Nationalists, also known as the Kuomintang (KMT), retreated to Taiwan after losing the civil war in 1949 to the Communists now in control in Beijing. China has never renounced the use of force to bring what it considers a breakaway province under its control.
Taiwan’s two jailed spies were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2006 for their activities, the defense ministry said, but declined to elaborate.
Reporting by Faith Hung and Damon Lin in TAIPEI, and Michael Martina and Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Sanjeev Miglani