CCP intervening in 2020 Taiwan elections, wielding many political influence weapons
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is employing various political means to interfere in the January 2020 Taiwan presidential and legislative elections and disrupt its democratic processes, according to Taiwan officials and intelligence analysts.
The CCP is using the openness of Taiwan’s democracy and “loopholes” in its processes to infiltrate and undermine its democratic institutions, according to the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan’s cabinet-level administrative agency that plans, develops and implements policies between the Republic of China (ROC)/Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), The Epoch Times newspaper reported.
For a start, the CCP is paying Taiwanese media and polling companies to produce and publicize fake polls that favor pro-communist candidates. For example, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau found that the chairman of an online media firm in Taiwan accepted funds from the Taiwan Affairs Office of the CCP for the Kuomintang presidential primaries in July 2019, The Epoch Times reported.
The CCP is enticing and intimidating members of the ruling democratic party and Taiwan government figures with funding and political pressure to promote CCP candidates. To counter illegal funding of political candidates, Taiwan is investigating more than 30 cases of alleged CCP funding of campaigns opposing the democratic party, the Taipei Times newspaper reported in October 2018.
The CCP has infiltrated Taiwan’s business community and is pressuring business leaders to support pro-communist candidates. The CCP has mobilized “Taiwan business people and their families living in mainland China to return to Taiwan to vote and to encourage extended family members and friends to cast China-friendly votes,” Bonne Glaser, senior advisor and the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, testified in September 2019 before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
The CCP has systematically infiltrated Taiwan’s media to force it to manufacture public opinion to promote the pro-communist candidates against competitors. “The term ‘red-media’ has been coined to highlight CCP penetration of Taiwan’s media organizations, which has resulted in pro-China coverage, self-censorship and promotion of candidates preferred by Beijing,” Glaser said. The CCP and PRC have made payments to Taiwan media groups for promoting China in print and on TV and the Taiwan Affairs Office has routinely paid some media outlets to follow its daily directions, the Financial Times newspaper reported in July 2019.
The CCP is also using its 50-cent Army — made up of people paid to post pro-Chinese messages — to attack anti-communist candidates on social networking sites such as Facebook. The group launches 2,500 attacks per day against websites in Taiwan, according to the January 2019 issue of Asia Report from The George Washington University’s Sigur Center for Asian Studies.
“The big worry ahead of the 2020 election is that the PRC will attempt to do the same thing as in 2018 but with many more resources,” Kharis Templeman, project manager of the Taiwan Democracy and Security Project and a social science research scholar at Stanford University, told the National Bureau of Asian Research in October 2019. “There may be a much more widespread campaign on social media to try to discredit some candidates and help others. If this campaign is covert, uses money that corrupts the political system, or coerces key people to publicly favor Beijing’s policies and candidates, then it is quite worrisome.”
(Pictured: A woman casts a ballot during the 2018 elections in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in which the Chinese Communist Party interfered using social media, illicit funding and false news, according to media reports.)
The CCP is also spreading fake news on the internet to foster resentment and hostility toward certain candidates. To counter fake news, Taiwan has increased fact-checking and promotion of news literacy among the public, including creating the Taiwan Fact Checking Center, according to the Taipei News. Facebook, Line, Yahoo-Kimo and Google have also committed to police fake accounts and misinformation in Taiwan, the Taipei Times reported.
Templeman believes Taiwan voters will see through the PRC’s assorted attempts to manipulate Taiwan’s political process.
“Given China’s history of interference in Taiwan’s elections, I tend to be optimistic that Taiwanese voters — as a whole — are by now pretty skeptical of pro-CCP voices and so are less susceptible to influence operations. But we still should be alert to the possibility that Taiwan’s democracy could be corrupted by a systematic campaign. The best way in the long run to deal with this threat is for Taiwan to strengthen its own democratic institutions, especially public campaign finance, transparency requirements, media ethics, and judicial oversight.”