A file photo shows a journalist using binoculars inside Beijing's Great Hall of the People. Photo: Reuters

Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan, has been mulling an amendment to the Classified National Security Information Protection Act that would mete out greater punishment to people convicted of spying for Beijing, in the midst of several high-profile espionage trials.

Spearheaded by lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, the amendment is expected to be deliberated on before the Judiciary Committee this week.

A loophole in the existing law means spying for China or divulging classified information to Beijing is not treasonous in nature as China is not considered a foreign nation.

Under the proposed amendment, the maximum custodial sentence for disclosing secrets to China would be increased from seven years to 15 years. Life imprisonment for leaking top secrets has also been suggested.

The amendment also stipulates stiffer sentences for disclosing unclassified but sensitive information to foreign citizens and Chinese nationals, or for probing for such information on their behalf. One example of such information is the president’s daily schedule.

Former officials of the ministerial level or above and other government employees vetted with security clearance and access to classified information will have to face a stricter, three-year overseas travel ban as well if the amendment is approved, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reports.

In 2016, an application for a trip to Hong Kong by former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou was rebuffed by his successor Tsai Ing-wen on the grounds that Ma might let slip state secrets while visiting the Chinese special administrative region.

Boosting penalties for espionage is in line with Taiwan’s efforts at international military and arms procurement, as the United States and other allies fear that intelligence and technologies shared with Taipei could end up in the hands of mainland Chinese operatives embedded there.

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