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Under President Ma Yin-jeou, Taiwan has opened itself to waves of tourists from mainland China. This is causing some major headaches for Taiwan’s security officials as the tense military hostility on both sides of the Taiwan Strait still remains a clear and present danger.

Some visitors to the island have been caught snapping pictures of sensitive military facilities in the democratic-ruled state, and others were seen as overtly curious about sensitive defense issues.

But none has matched the notoriety gained by a 77-year-old former People’s Liberation Army tank commander named Qiao Zhaoqing during his Taiwan visit.

On May 4, a group of Chinese tourists paid visit to a military museum on the famed Quemoy [Kinmen] island, Taiwan’s frontline of defense against the mainland. Quemoy island was at the center of the communist government’s regular artillery barrage starting in the 1950s until 1979 when President Jimmy Carter’s administration recognized the Beijing government.

At the museum was a prized medal won by the two-time garrison chief of Quemoy Gen. Hu Lian. The Medal of the Blue Sky and the White Sun is the highest military medal bestowed by the Taiwanese government. After the visitors left, museum staff discovered the medal was missing.

Security videotape revealed the suspect was an old man belonging to the tourist group. Police cooperated with the Chinese local authorities and arrested the suspect on an express train to his home province of Helongjiang in Northeast China. The police also found the stolen medal in Mr. Qiao’s luggage.

It turned out that Mr. Qiao was a well-known PLA tank commander reportedly responsible for destroying at least four American tanks in the Korean War.

But before that, he had fought with the tanks commanded by Gen. Hu Lian during the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940s.

Apparently, he just wanted to have a souvenir of some real value.

Miles Yu’s columns appear Thursdays. He can be reached at