Taiwan to Step Up Probe of Surveillance by Pro-China Media on Island

January 18, 2019 Updated: January 20, 2019

The Taiwanese government will intensify its investigation of two pro-Beijing newspapers after politicians recently accused the newspapers of both surveillance activities and spreading fake news on the island, a security official told reporters on Jan. 18.

The official’s remarks come after the two tabloids, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, published inflammatory reports about several Hong Kong pro-independence activists who traveled to Taiwan to meet with a “mysterious man,” who was a “secret envoy,” near the presidential palace, according to The Liberty Times (Chinese), a local newspaper.

The “envoy” was, in fact, a Liberty Times reporter.

In their reporting, the two newspapers detailed the activists’ meetings, movements, and even the books they browsed in a bookshop, along with photographs.

“The surveillance was very serious,” Tony Chung, a 17-year-old high school student and activist, told Reuters. “It’s quite terrifying that even in Taiwan, we’re followed 24 hours a day.”

The two tabloids are known for attacking both democracy and independence in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Even though Taiwan is a self-ruled island with its own constitution, currency, and democratically elected government, the Chinese regime regards it as a renegade province that must be united with the mainland, with military force if necessary.

You Cheng-hua, deputy director of a national security unit that reports to Taiwan’s Investigation Bureau, told reporters that the unit’s top priority is uncovering the work of “foreign hostile forces,” or influence from Beijing. “We have been increasing our deployment and gathering intelligence.”

“I also urge the public and media to help provide any tips on suspicious or illegal (activities),” said You.

Alex Huang, spokesman for Taiwan’s presidential office also commented on Ta Kung Pao’s surveillance of the Hong Kong activists, calling the newspaper’s actions “unlawful.”

Other Taiwanese figures expressed concern about the incident. “I’m worried that ‘red terror’ is happening in Taiwan … They are following Hong Kong people today. Will they follow Taiwanese tomorrow?” said Lo Chih Cheng, a lawmaker from the Democratic Progressive Party.

With Taiwan expected to hold a presidential election in about a year, president Tsai Ing-wen has warned against Chinese efforts to meddle in domestic politics, including with the deployment of “fake news.”

Neither of the tabloids offered an immediate response to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Ongoing Interference

The Chinese regime has raised pressure on the island since Tsai became president in 2016. Chinese leader Xi Jinping most recently called for Taiwan to embrace the idea of unification in a Jan. 2 speech. In addition, the November 2018 elections were precipitated by constant political interference by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

While pro-Beijing news sites spread fake news that the Taiwan administration planned to rent an administered island to the U.S. military, The Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper, claimed that Taiwan intended to use local citizens as “human shields” in a plan to “bait and fool the United States.”

Local Taiwanese media have also reported that the CCP created cyber armies to spread propaganda on Taiwan’s popular social media.

Through negative portrayals of Taiwan’s government, Beijing seeks to convince Taiwanese citizens that there is a “legitimate” reason to push for its unification agenda. This sort of interference is carried out by the CCP’s United Front Work Department to fulfill Beijing’s agenda overseas.

Taiwan currently has laws that prevent Beijing from using money to influence Taiwanese politics, but the Chinese regime has been known to recruit Taiwanese businessmen working inside mainland China to receive payments, which they, in turn, hand to Taiwanese political candidates as campaign donations.

Another method is to draw in low-level officials by inviting them to mainland China on all-expenses-paid visits. One such example is Zhang Xiuye, a mainland Chinese national who lived in Taiwan and ran for political office, who eventually was charged with taking bribes.

Reuters contributed to this report.