The identification and detention yesterday of gangsters belonging to a crime syndicate for involvement in violent protests against Hong Kong democracy advocates and lawmakers visiting Taiwan hardly surprised anyone, but only confirmed speculation. The more pressing question is: Why were they in Taiwan?
The first conclusion that people familiar with the nation’s political landscape might arrive at is that former Bamboo Union leader and founder of the China Unification Promotion Party Chang An-le (張安樂), the “White Wolf,” was involved. Members of his party were at the forum attended by the Hong Kong visitors and the New Power Party at the weekend.
Chang told the Chinese state-controlled Global Times that the China Unification Promotion Party “had specially appointed people to be on the flight with [Hong Kong democracy campaigner] Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) from Hong Kong to determine his itinerary.”
What is also alarming is remarks Wang Zaixi (王在希) — former vice minister of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office — made in an interview with the Global Times last week.
Wang said that as the KMT has lost its ability to effectively counterbalance the Democratic Progressive Party, “there is no power ... that could constrain Taiwan’s independence forces other than [China].”
With the KMT withering and losing appeal and relevance, the Chinese Communist Party could no longer rely on it to curb developments that are contrary to the direction it wants Taiwan to go.
Wang’s remarks were an embarrassment to the KMT, not only because they show Beijing has a low opinion of it, but also because they showed that the former ruling party is Beijing’s disposable asset.
Taiwanese should be aghast that the KMT is happy to cooperate with such an entity.
Wang’s words also indicate that China has to resort to its own schemes.
“China’s resolution to solve the Taiwan problem certainly includes the use of force, but also economic, military, public opinion and diplomatic means,” Wang said.
None of those would require Taiwanese to be onboard, except public opinion.
The government has become more wary of pseudo-news that can affect public opinion spread by the fifth column via messaging app Line, rather than the more interactive Facebook, although there certainly were misleading messages dispersed there.
On Line, messages can be easily sent and forwarded without being intercepted by the Internet community, which could lead uninformed people to better news sources.
Unsettling social perception of events is another way to sway public opinion.
The violent protests and attacks on pro-Hong Kong independence politicians by gangsters and radical unificationists is a reminder of how such groups were deployed by the then-authoritarian KMT regime decades ago when democracy advocates and demonstrations were surging in Taiwan.
There are also modern-day examples, with Hong Kong’s “Umbrella movement” in October 2014 drawing gangsters suspected of causing chaos among demonstrations, including instigating bloody conflicts.
Taiwan’s Sunflower movement, unsurprisingly, also saw the China Unification Promotion Party stage a counterprotest in March 2014.
Unlike in authoritarian-era Taiwan and present-day Hong Kong, Taiwan’s law enforcement authorities can bring offenders to justice.
However, a democracy with the rule of law still needs to be on the alert to stop sabotage, physical harm or disinformation propagated by an authoritarian state that has not given up on its ambition to annex Taiwan.