Chinese authorities have been meeting with Taiwanese businesspeople in China and mobilizing them to return home to vote in Jan. 11’s elections, a source said on Saturday.
The Taiwan Merchant Association Shenzen on Thursday last week issued a memo saying that, following discussions with “authorities,” it would help its members and their family pay for return flights to Taiwan, the source said, adding that all family members eligible to vote would receive 400 yuan (US$57.18).
A larger subsidy of 600 yuan would be provided to those taking a specific flight in the early hours of Jan. 10, they said.
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The association confirmed the subsidies over the telephone.
To be eligible the association member or members of their family would need to depart from Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hong Kong or Macau on a direct flight to Taiwan, the association said.
The association has been providing flight subsidies for years, and it has long been understood that Chinese authorities influence Taiwan’s elections through such associations, Taiwan Democracy Watch chairman Sung Cheng-en (宋承恩) said on Saturday.
Members of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) often attend meetings hosted by these associations prior to elections, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said.
Judicial authorities would need to determine whether there were any legal implications regarding these meetings and subsidies, the council said.
The addition of cross-strait flights for the elections would need approval from Chinese aviation authorities, with the TAO acting as an intermediary, it said.
In the past few years, the TAO had been instrumental in encouraging Chinese travel agencies to provide Taiwanese businesspeople with discounted tickets, which caused alarm over the office’s influence over the elections, the source said.
The China-based Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland in September requested discounted flights, and Chinese airlines responded immediately, the source said.
At the time, Shenzhen Airlines suggested that return flights be priced at a 50 percent discount of 1,500 yuan for Taiwanese businesspeople flying home for the elections, the source said.
Those returning twice — once to vote and once again for the Lunar New Year holiday — could purchase two return tickets through the airline for a total of 3,000 yuan, provided they would be in Taiwan on election day, the source said.
Judicial authorities would thoroughly investigate suspected vote-buying of any form, the council said.
Airlines and travel agencies should avoid providing discounts or benefits that could be seen as aiming to influence the outcome of the elections, it said.
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