Asia Pacific / Politics

China meddling allegations roil Taiwan election campaign

Reuters, AFP-JIJI, AP

New allegations that Beijing tried to infiltrate Taiwan’s democracy roiled election campaigning on the island this weekend, with President Tsai Ing-wen’s main opponent saying would drop out if he had taken money from China’s Communist Party.

A Chinese defector, named as Wang “William” Liqiang by Australian media, gave a sworn statement to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) about Beijing’s efforts to influence politics in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia.

In particular, Wang said he helped guide positive media attention toward certain Taiwanese politicians, including Tsai’s top challenger, Han Kuo-yu from the China-friendly Kuomintang party. China, in a late night statement Saturday, said Wang is a convicted fraudster who traveled on fake documents.

Taiwan, claimed by China as its sacred territory to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if needed, is already on high alert for Chinese attempts to sway presidential and legislative elections scheduled for Jan. 11, whether through disinformation campaigns or military intimidation.

The details about what China is suspected of doing in Taiwan quickly provoked strong reaction from both Han and his party and Tsai and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which supports Taiwan’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing.

Speaking on a campaign stop in eastern Taiwan on Saturday, Tsai said China’s “shadow” is becoming more and more obvious.

Taiwan must not let China destroy its democratic values, she added.

DPP Chairman Cho Jung-tai, writing on his Facebook page, said the Kuomintang was teaming up with the Chinese Communist Party against Taiwan and urged people to use their vote wisely.

“Will one ballot decide whether Taiwan wants to go into totalitarian China with the Kuomintang?” Cho wrote.

The Kuomintang called the reports in the Australian media “quite sensational,” adding it hoped the government did not use this to “play the fear of the communist’s card.”

Han told reporters he had doubts about what the defector was claiming, asking how the Kuomintang lost the last presidential election in 2016 if China really was swaying elections.

If he had taken money from China’s Communist Party, Han vowed to resign from his post as mayor of the southern city of Kaohsiung, to which he was elected a year ago.

“In this year’s presidential election, if Han Kuo-yu has taken even one cent, he will immediately drop out of the race,” Han told reporters, adding he needed more information.

“Can Mr. Wang please come directly to Taiwan, and not hide overseas.”

Taiwan’s government says it is investigating Wang’s claims, and is asking Australia to provide further information.

Late Saturday, DPP legislative whip Ker Chien-ming said they would make a renewed push for anti-infiltration legislation this week in light of the Australian reports.

Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party.

While no peace treaty has ever been signed, Kuomintang delegations these days visit China regularly. Han met the head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen in March.

Australia’s parliamentary intelligence chief said Sunday that Wang should be granted asylum.

“I’m of the view that anyone who’s willing to assist us in defending our sovereignty deserves our protection,” Andrew Hastie told Australia’s Nine network newspapers, which first reported Wang’s claims.

Hastie, a vocal critic of Beijing, was banned from entering China last week along with another politician.

He has previously said Australia’s sovereignty and freedoms could be threatened by Beijing.

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, which deals with immigration matters, would not comment on Wang’s case.

Wang would be the first Chinese intelligence operative to blow his cover. He has told Nine’s “60 Minutes” program that he will be executed if he returns to China.

China has sought to discredit Wang, accusing him of being an unemployed fraudster and fugitive.

The Chinese Embassy on Sunday said Wang was sentenced in Fujian province in October 2016 to one year and three months in prison for fraud with a suspended sentence of 1½ years, and also was wanted in relation to a fraud case from earlier this year.

“On April 19, 2019, the Shanghai police opened an investigation into Wang who allegedly cheated 4.6 million yuan from a person surnamed Shu through a fake investment project involving car import in February,” an embassy statement said.

The embassy said Wang left for Hong Kong on April 10 carrying a fake Chinese passport and a fake Hong Kong permanent resident ID.

Australian counterintelligence officials warned earlier this year that the threat of foreign interference was “unprecedented” and that the number of foreign spies in Australia was higher than during the Cold War.

The agency has never publicly named China in its warnings.

But the recently retired head of the agency, Duncan Lewis, said in an interview published Friday that China wanted to “take over” Australia’s political system with an “insidious” and systematic campaign of espionage and influence-peddling.