Taiwan Seeks Observer Status at Interpol, as It Endures Massive Cyberattacks From China

November 1, 2018 Updated: November 1, 2018

Taiwan is seeking observer status for the 87th Interpol General Assembly, in hopes of engaging the international organization’s help in dealing with problems it faces because of cyberattacks from China.

Eradicating cybercrime is one of three priorities listed by Interpol in its Strategic Framework 2017–2020, along with counterterrorism, and organized and emerging crimes. Among these, cybercrime is also listed at the top of the list of emerging crimes.

Bloomberg News recently reported that China has ramped up its cyberattacks on Taiwan. The attacks have been ongoing, with an estimated 20 million to 40 million each month in 2017, and have been increasing ahead of Taiwan’s elections Nov. 24. These elections are for all local-level government officials, including mayors, county and city councilors, and other officeholders.

Relations between mainland China and the self-ruled island of Taiwan are strained, as Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland one day, with military force if necessary.

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.

In the past, the Chinese regime has tried to interfere with Taiwan’s elections in different ways, such as missile threats, or altering trade deals.

Earlier this month, Leu Weng-jong, director general of the investigation bureau of Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice, said his department has gathered intelligence on about 33 instances of China assisting Taiwanese political candidates with pro-Beijing leanings. Leu identified two chief methods: indirect political donations and the creation of Taiwanese political groups that advocate for pro-Beijing causes.

The cyberattacks not only aim to damage the elections, but also are meant to undermine Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen, who has defied efforts to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control, according to Bloomberg. Among the efforts to undermine Taiwan has been Beijing’s recent attempts to pressure the island nation’s diplomatic partners into recognizing only “one China.”

Taiwan’s request to be granted observer status at the Interpol General Assembly is an effort to break through the isolation Beijing is seeking to impose. Taiwan was a member of Interpol until 1984, when China gained membership in the organization.

Taiwan’s Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) sent a letter to Interpol in late September requesting to attend this year’s annual General Assembly with a status of observer. Taiwan has also reportedly made other efforts to communicate with Interpol through different channels.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) has sent emails to Interpol about the status of CIB’s request. On Oct. 17, Interpol replied to CNA’s email by referring to its 1984 decision to recognize the People’s Republic of China as a legitimate member. The ongoing cyberattacks from China, together with Interpol’s priority on cybercrimes, appear to have put the organization in an awkward position about Taiwan’s potential participation.

“Politics should not override global security needs,” Tsai Tsan-Po, CIB commissioner, said in a letter sent to Interpol in late October. “Taiwan’s exclusion from Interpol creates a gap in intelligence sharing and a loophole for criminal activity.”

Tsai’s letter mentioned that Taiwan had earned widespread acclaim for its public security, and said, “The international community should not exclude Taiwan in the fight against transnational crimes.”

Observer status would also allow Taiwan to gain international cooperation in dealing with the massive cyberattacks by Beijing.

The Interpol General Assembly is scheduled to be held at the Dubai World Trade Centre in the United Arab Emirates from Nov. 16 to Nov. 21.