Taiwan Warns of China’s Meddling Ahead of Island’s Upcoming Elections

Taiwan Warns of China’s Meddling Ahead of Island’s Upcoming Elections
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during National Day celebrations in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei on Oct.10, 2018. (Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
Frank Fang
With local elections in Taiwan just a month away, the self-ruled island is being confronted with the problem of election meddling by Beijing.
Leu Weng-jong, director general of the investigation bureau of Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice, said his department has gathered intelligence on about 33 cases of Beijing assisting Taiwanese political candidates who are running for election, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
The seats up for election include local mayors, county magistrates, legislators, as well as village and township-level public offices.
While testifying before Taiwan’s parliament—known as the Legislative Yuan—at an Oct. 22 hearing, Leu explained that the island’s existing laws governing political donations and relations between Taiwan and China prevent mainland Chinese citizens or organizations from donating to Taiwan’s political candidates.
He added that most of the known cases involve Beijing circumventing the laws by either paying for politicians’ constituents to travel to China—all expenses paid, or giving indirect political donations.
One example of an indirect political donation is Beijing making payments to Taiwanese businessmen working in China, who then steer the money to political candidates.
Another common tactic by Beijing is using Taiwanese political groups that advocate friendly ties with China to sway public opinion in favor of pro-Beijing political candidates.
Leu added that four cases have already been sent to local prosecutors in Taipei and three counties: Changhua, Yunlin, and Pingtung.
When questioned by legislator William Tseng about whether the intelligence collected shows involvement by any Beijing government agency or institute, Liu responded, “You can say that.”
At the hearing, legislator Lu Shyh-fang pointed out that as of Oct. 22, there have been 1,628 cases of bribery related to the upcoming election cycle alone, citing data from the Ministry of Justice. Lu added that it would be difficult to determine if any of these cases are connected to Beijing.
Taiwan’s Premier William Lai—who heads the state cabinet—confirmed Leu’s remarks, while speaking at the Legislative Yuan on Oct. 23. He said that Beijing is using money to influence Taiwan’s upcoming elections, according to Taiwanese daily newspaper the Liberty Times.
After China’s civil war in 1949, members of the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan following a defeat by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Since then, mainland China has been under authoritarian, one-party rule, while the island of Taiwan has transitioned into a full-fledged democracy with its first direct presidential election held in 1996.
Relations between the two are fraught, as Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland one day, with military force if necessary.  
The ultimate goal for China’s meddling in Taiwan’s elections is to have pro-Beijing candidates win elections. Once these candidates become public officials, Beijing believes they are more likely to follow its agenda—such as pushing for more cross-strait economic and cultural cooperations—and avoid political “troubles” such as advocating for Taiwan’s formal independence.
Claims of election meddling in Taiwan comes at a time when China has been called out for attempting to influence the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, in a speech at the Hudson Institute think tank on Oct. 4, said that, “China has initiated an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections.”
He added, “To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working, and China wants a different American president.”
But China’s interests in Taiwan go far beyond just election meddling. Leu, in an exclusive interview with the Liberty Times published on Oct. 22, said that the bureau has investigated a total of 52 spy cases involving China in the past five years.
Leu explained that they involved Chinese spies operating in Taiwan; Taiwan citizens who have been recruited by Beijing; or mainland Chinese coming to Taiwan for the purposes of developing groups friendly to Beijing. One particular case, Leu said, involved a retired Taiwanese military official who worked in the Ministry of National Defense’s communications office, Bian Peng.
In May, Peng was charged with violating Taiwan’s national security act; the prosecutor in New Taipei City said he allegedly provided Taiwan’s military information to the Chinese military.
After being recruited by a Chinese military official surnamed Wang in 2015, Peng arranged a meeting in China later that year between Chinese military officials and a fellow retired Taiwanese air force official surnamed Fan. During the meeting, Chinese officials asked Fan about how Taiwan’s air force is set up, including information about the time it would take for Taiwanese fighter jets to refuel and rearm. Fan didn’t share the information and instead tipped off Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense about Peng upon returning to Taiwan.
Under orders from China’s military officials, Peng also downloaded military reports compiled by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, and handed the reports to Chinese officials.