Taiwan Sets the Bar on Respecting Freedom of Speech While Shutting Down Chinese Election Interference

Taiwan Sets the Bar on Respecting Freedom of Speech While Shutting Down Chinese Election Interference
Taiwan's armed forces hold two days of routine drills to show combat readiness ahead of Lunar New Year holidays at a military base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on Jan. 11, 2023. The self-ruled island of Taiwan continues to hold defensive drills, as tensions remain high in the Taiwan straits. (Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)
John Mills

A well-attended press conference took place at the National Press Club in Washington on April 8. Experts shared the essential learning points on how Taiwan conducted a successful presidential election in the face of a concerted, malign influence campaign waged by communist China through online methods enabled by collaborators inside Taiwan.

Russell Hsiao, executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute, led a panel of experts that included Yang Shun-Ching of Doublethink Labs, Yu Chihhao of Taiwan Information Environment Research Center, Eve Chiu of Taiwan Fact Check Center, Billion Lee of Cofacts, and Liu Wen-Ping of the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau.

The group presented multiple points of view on how the Chinese regime attempted to interfere based on observation and analysis. The slide shows displayed exemplars and “data-driven” analysis of Chinese manipulation of social media and cognitive warfare. The basic objective of the Chinese efforts was to sow distrust and division among the Taiwanese population and influence the outcome of the presidential election.

TikTok Played a Key Role

Social media, laced with artificial intelligence-enabled manipulations of media, were the tip of the spear of the Chinese efforts. TikTok was the most malign of the Chinese social media campaigns, but often, there was strong synchronization of messaging across YouTube, Douyin (China’s domestic version of TikTok), and TikTok itself.

Ms. Chiu showed examples of this messaging. U.S. political figures such as presumptive GOP nominee and former President Donald Trump and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) had their English language and Mandarin-translated voice tracks altered.

One of the AI-altered TikTok videos with Mr. Wittman showed him voicing support for Democratic Progressive Party candidate William Lai, while the original video clip showed the congressman talking about Ukraine—meaning that the altered video had been manipulated from a totally different topic.

Influencers also played a key role on TikTok and repeated the same talking points between the different influencer personalities. Mr. Yang presented an example of a TikTok influencer who had previously focused on fashion and started sharing messages questioning the integrity of the Taiwanese election process and alleging electoral fraud.

Ms. Lee shared that AI-enabled, tailored targeting appeared to be part of the TikTok deliverable. Ten percent of the messages were designed (tailored) to be distinct and explicitly meant for individual recipients. This percentage will likely increase with growing capabilities in harnessing big data, big data analytics, and artificial intelligence on scale.

Fear, Doubt, and Divisiveness to Throw the Election Fell Short

The psychological operation and cognitive warfare campaign objective of the Chinese flow of messages was primarily intended to favor the Kuomintang party through a focus on fear, doubt, and divisiveness.

One of the ugliest and most pernicious themes pushed were smears of the growing Indian population doing high-tech work in the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. chip factories and other labor categories such as construction. The messages were intentionally designed to create fear that Taiwanese women would be targeted in sexual assaults by this imported labor that has become necessary because of labor shortages and low birth rates in Taiwan.

One curious theme was the planted messages that U.S. pork was contaminated, low quality, or had other negative attributes. This theme was perhaps a double-edged sword or not fully thought out. The Chinese population depends heavily on U.S.-imported pork. Should the Chinese not trust U.S. pork or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)?

One semi-comical attempted smear was aimed at Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and looked like a typical American political attack ad, in which her picture in color would be reshown in black and white with vague intimations that some sinister secret double life was being led, yet with scant detail behind the allegation.

The spectrum and volume of messaging were designed to create a questioning of the Taiwanese democratic political process with the hopeful leap of conclusion that the target audience would somehow change their mind and rally to the CCP totalitarianism model.

Freedom of Speech and Simultaneous Mitigation of Election Interference Are Possible

What was common among the presenters was respect for the difference between political dissent and willful malign Chinese interference. One important observation from Mr. Liu was the key role that on-the-ground collaborators played. They helped focus, clarify, distribute, and adjust the messaging. The money trail seemed to be the primary evidence for identifying Chinese collaborators.

During the press conferences before the January Taiwanese election, Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu cited multiple arrests for violating Taiwanese laws forbidding the acceptance of foreign money for political activities.

The Taiwanese showed a remarkable ability to discriminate their activities and allow political discourse to occur while successfully identifying and interdicting malign CCP influence operations.

The Taiwan experience is rich with lessons learned that can be applied to the upcoming U.S. presidential election. In Taiwan, there appears to be a healthy respect for and appreciation of the vital necessity for an election process that is as clean as possible.

The comments on how highly the Chinese valued on-the-ground collaborators to refine the effectiveness of their cognitive warfare campaign bring even more concern, focus, and action that should be applied to the relentless surge of Chinese nationals who appear to be military operators streaming across the southern border into the United States.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Col. (Ret.) John Mills is a national security professional with service in five eras: Cold War, Peace Dividend, War on Terror, World in Chaos, and now, Great Power Competition. He is the former director of cybersecurity policy, strategy, and international affairs at the Department of Defense. Mr. Mills is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. He is author of “The Nation Will Follow” and “War Against the Deep State.” ColonelRETJohn on Substack, GETTR, and Truth Social