Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau Director-General Leu Wen-jong (呂文忠) yesterday confirmed that China has attempted to meddle in the Nov. 24 nine-in-one elections, saying that his bureau has so far received more than 30 pieces of intelligence pointing to China either funding local candidates’ campaigns or treating local opinion leaders to visits to the other side of the Strait in exchange for their support for Beijing’s favored candidates.
Chinese attempts — open or clandestine — to interfere in other countries’ domestic politics are nothing new. On Sept. 26, US President Donald Trump accused Beijing of trying to influence next month’s US midterm elections. US Vice President Mike Pence this month accused Beijing of meddling in the US’ democracy and initiating “an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections.”
In July, cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc suggested that China conducted cyberespionage against other countries, saying that Chinese cyberspies targeted Cambodian institutions to gather information ahead of elections there that month.
Chinese interference in Taiwan’s elections is nothing new, but the government and the public need to remain vigilant due to Beijing’s changing tactics.
In the days leading up to the first direct presidential election in 1996, China fired missiles into waters near Taiwan in an apparent move to scare people into not voting for then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). The move backfired and Lee won by a landslide.
Beijing resorted to verbal threats ahead of the 2000 presidential election, with then-Chinese premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) warning voters not to support then-Democratic Progressive Party candidate Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who trumpeted Taiwanese independence. Zhu said that “if the pro-independence force comes into power, it may trigger a war between the two sides” of the Taiwan Strait. China’s intimidation again backfired, only reinforcing ill feelings toward Beijing.
Having learnt that intimidation does not work, China has become more sophisticated. Rather than issuing threats, Leu’s comments yesterday show that it has opted for “soft tactics” that include funding candidates via China-based Taiwanese businesspeople, as the Political Donations Act (政治獻金法) and Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例) bar candidates from accepting donations from China.
Another obvious change is that, while certain Taiwanese politicians and business leaders previously acted as its “proxies” in Taiwan, Beijing now skillfully employs the Internet and social networks to influence public opinion. Early last month, the Investigation Bureau said that the Chinese government is using online content farms to create fake news to manipulate public opinion and polarize people.
With the elections approaching, Beijing can be expected to intensify its trickery to sow more discord and create disturbances. Now that the government is clearly aware of its malicious intent, it must design countermeasures to fully block Chinese capital and invisible forces from harming Taiwan’s democratic system and elections.
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