TAIPEI - Taiwan said Monday that three retired military officers have been arrested on suspicion of leaking military secrets to China, in one of the island's worst espionage cases.
Chang Chih-hsin, formerly the chief officer in charge of political warfare at the naval METOC (meteorology and oceanography) office, has been arrested, the defence ministry said in a statement.
"Chang, who initiated contacts with Chinese mainland officials while still serving in the navy, was suspected of luring his former colleagues and making illegal gains," it said.
Defence ministry spokesman David Lo confirmed two other former military officers have also been arrested in the case.
Lo did not say what kind of military information Chang allegedly sold to China but played down the possible damage to Taiwan's security, saying "Chang had had limited access to sensitive information of the naval METOC".
But the Taipei-based broadsheet Apple Daily said a total of eight former military officers had been arrested in the case.
It quoted a retired naval general as saying the naval METOC kept highly classified information such as mapping and charting publications of the meteorological and oceanographic battle environment.
The information has been used by the island's submarines and other warships, the paper said.
"If China had the classified info, it could be able to be aware of the operation of Taiwan's submarines," the retired naval general warned.
Ties between Taipei and Beijing have improved markedly since President Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008 on a platform of beefing up trade and tourism links. Ma was re-elected in January for a second and last four-year term.
But the episode has highlighted Beijing's lingering hostility towards the island, which it still regards as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
In July last year, a Taiwanese general lured by a honey trap into spying for China was sentenced to life in prison in one of the island's worst spying cases for half a century.
The island has governed itself for more than six decades since splitting from the mainland in 1949 at the end of a civil war.