In an annual bill to allocate intelligence funding, lawmakers have included language to require a report on how China interferes with the upcoming 2020 elections in self-ruled Taiwan.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) recently introduced H.R. 3494, the Damon Paul Nelson and Matthew Young Pollard Intelligence Authorization Act for the next fiscal year, which sets policies and funding for U.S. intelligence agencies.
The bill stipulates that U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats must submit a report to congressional intelligence committees within 45 days after Jan. 11, 2020, when voting in Taiwan will take place.
Aside from electing a new president and vice president, all 113 seats of Taiwan’s parliament (known as the Legislative Yuan) will be up for election.
The bill requires intelligence reports on several issues relating to China, such as Beijing’s influence operations in the United States, the internment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and influence operations to interfere or undermine the elections in Taiwan.
According to Taiwanese English-language newspaper Taiwan News, this is the first time that a U.S. intelligence authorization bill acknowledges China’s efforts to meddle in Taiwan’s elections.
Relations between China and its democratic neighbor are fraught, as Beijing considers the island a renegade province that must be united with the mainland one day, with military force if necessary.
In the past, China has interfered with Taiwan elections by pushing for pro-Beijing candidates to win. Once these candidates become public officials, Beijing believes they are more likely to follow its agenda of persuading Taiwanese citizens to accept unification with the mainland, such as by pushing for more cross-strait economic and cultural cooperation.
The bill states that the report on Taiwan elections must provide a “comprehensive list of specific governmental and nongovernmental entities of China that were involved in supporting such operations and a description of the role of each such entity.”
Moreover, the report must identify tactics, techniques, and procedures for how these Chinese operations are carried out.
Finally, the report should provide descriptions of any U.S. government efforts in helping Taiwan to “build up its capacity to disrupt external efforts that degrade a free and fair election process.”
The United States currently has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, since Washington changed its diplomatic recognition in favor of Beijing in January 1979. Since then, the United States has maintained a nondiplomatic relationship with Taipei based on the Taiwan Relations Act.
Under this law, the United States has continually sold military weapons and equipment to Taiwan for its defense, much to Beijing’s ire. In early June, Taiwan confirmed a purchase of more than $2 billion of U.S. tanks and missiles.
In November 2018, when Taiwan held elections for a number of local political offices including mayors and legislators, Beijing used social media to spread disinformation about political candidates who were critical of Beijing, while funding campaign efforts for pro-Beijing candidates.
In the 2018 elections, the Kuomintang, which has in recent years taken a Beijing-friendly stance, won a landslide victory, particularly defeating the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in two mayoral races in the central city of Taichung and the southern port city of Kaohsiung. The DPP has historically advocated formal independence from mainland China, which Beijing considers a red line.
The Taiwanese government has sought to crack down on Beijing’s meddling. For example, just before the November 2018 elections, Zhang Xiuye, a mainland Chinese national living in Taiwan who was running for city councilor, was charged by prosecutors for taking bribes from China.
U.S. officials have recently highlighted the issue in public remarks.
In June, Randall Schriver, assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, warned that Beijing will interfere with Taiwan’s 2020 election, given its past pattern of interference, while speaking at the 2019 Asia Policy Assembly conference in Washington.
Shriver added that he expected Beijing to use social media and cyber intrusions in the upcoming elections.
Taiwan was ranked the most affected among the world’s liberal democracies by false information spread by foreign governments, in a May report published by the Varieties of Democracy Institute based at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
The report identified China as spreading false and misleading information in Taiwan, including by providing funds to local media to adopt a more pro-Beijing line in their coverage, which leads to media outlets in Taiwan providing “very different presentations of the same events.”
In June, Taiwanese citizens turned out in record numbers for a rally to demand a ban on pro-Beijing media that spread the Chinese regime’s propaganda.