Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council has refuted fresh accusations from Beijing that mainland students became prime targets of a new espionage war, stressing that mainland students enjoy human rights and freedom while on the island.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has also pointed at Beijing’s own espionage activities targeting the self-ruling island.

The Taiwanese council in charge of cross-Strait affairs on Saturday denied an allegation that Taipei had been recruiting mainland Chinese students to spy on their own country, and called on Beijing not to prevent Chinese nationals from studying in Taiwan.

“Taiwan is a free democracy ruled by the law. The government has welcomed Chinese students to study in the nation with the aim of promoting diversity on campus and improving understanding among the younger generations across the [Taiwan] Strait…. Chinese students studying in Taiwan enjoy freedom and human rights protected by the government,” the council said in a statement.

The council further made a countercharge and urged Beijing not to plot “political manipulation targeting Chinese students studying in Taiwan” and not to make untrue claims about Taiwanese engaging in espionage.

The Ministry of National Defense on Sunday also denied the accusations.

Last weekend, Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television reported on alleged espionage activities by Taiwanese intelligence authorities and urged Chinese students to stay wary and report spies.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office also demanded that Taiwanese authorities put an end to its “destructive intelligence activities.”

Despite China’s protest over the alleged espionage attempts, it has been carrying out acts of espionage targeting Taiwanese military personnel and veterans for many years, the Defense Ministry told the Taipei Times.

One such case involved a retired army major-general and former commander of the Air Defense Missile Command, who was under investigation for allegedly leaking classified information to China, although prosecutors later dropped the charges against him.

To counter Beijing’s espionage activities, the Taiwanese military has reportedly carried out unannounced “loyalty tests” and has required military personnel to inform supervisors of their contact with any Chinese nationals.

There is also a cash reward on offer for reporting a Chinese spy.