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Taiwan warns of Chinese influence tactics in run-up to presidential poll

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen. (Voice of America/Released)
May 06, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Taiwan’s president reiterated on Thursday that the democratic island will never agree to be ruled by Beijing, as a key political opponent denied supporting the idea in an interview with China’s Xinhua news agency.

President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan’s 23 million population would neveraccept President Xi Jinping’s insistence in January that the island–which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party–be “unified” with China under the “one country, two systems” framework applied to the former colonial cities of Hong Kong and Macau.

“One country, two systems is unacceptable to the people of Taiwan,” Tsai told reporters. “We will continue to uphold freedom and democracy.”

In a Jan. 2 speech titled “Letter to our Taiwan compatriots,” ChinesePresident Xi Jinping said that Taiwan must be “unified” with China, and refused to rule out the use of military force to annex the island.

Tsai on Thursday echoed her comments at the time that Taiwan’s peoplehad no wish to give up their sovereignty.

“The people of Taiwan have the right to determine their own future,” Tsai said. “That is our bottom line.”

Her remarks came as the island’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the body tasked with managing relations with Beijing, called on People First Party (PFP) chairman James Soong to clarify a Xinhua report alleging that he expressed his support for the idea.

In the article, Xinhua said Soong “wholly agrees” with a “two systems”arrangement, and supported “democratic negotiations” between Beijingand political parties and social groups from all walks of life in Taiwan.

Chinese misinformation being spread on Taiwan

Soong moved quickly on Thursday to deny the report, saying that the words “one country, two systems” have never passed his lips.

“That visit [to China] was to discuss economics, not politics,” he told reporters. “I never spoke those four words, still less did I talk about the Hong Kong model of one country, two systems as a framework for cross-straits relations.”

Instead, Soong said he favored “democratic discussions on an equalfooting,” similar to Tsai’s own demands in the wake of Xi Jinping’s Jan. 2 speech on Taiwan.

Earlier this week, Taiwan’s MAC warned that media outlets controlled by the Chinese Communist Party media often “disseminate misinformation.”

The interview took place during a trip Soong made to China starting onApril 15, which included visits to Beijing’s Central Liaison Offices in Hong Kong and Macau.

The MAC warned that Xi’s ultimate goal is to destroy the 1911 Republic of China, which retreated to the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen andMatsu after the then-ruling Kuomintang (KMT) lost a civil war to MaoZedong’s communists in 1949.

“Sovereignty is not a gambling chip, democracy cannot be traded away,”the MAC said in a statement.

Micro-targeting voters with fake news

MAC spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng warned that China is likely stepping upits influence operations in Taiwan ahead of presidential elections inNovember 2020.

“Taiwan is on the front line of the Chinese Communist Party’s divide-and-rule tactics,” Chiu told reporters. “It is likely that they will seek to make use of a free and democratic society to step up their interference, to sway public opinion in Taiwan and to undermine the stability of our government.”

The deputy head of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau (NSB), Chen Wen-fan, said there are already news outlets operating in Taiwan that are covertly backed by Beijing, whose job it is to micro-target the island’s population with fake news on social media.

He cited some reports as saying that on Feb. 11 this year, President Tsai had snubbed high-ranking attendees at a friendship event for the mainland and Taiwanese business communities.

“This was intended to provoke discord between the government andTaiwanese businessmen, and to create an atmosphere for the Taiwanbusiness community to distrust the government,” Chen said.

Chen said official Chinese social media accounts had also been trolling Taiwan, in an attempt at intimidation.

“For example, the official WeChat public account of the [People’s Liberation Army] paratroopers released a new song titled ‘My Warhawk flies around the island’,” he said. “This song talked about ‘unification’, which deliberately gave the impression that they are monitoring, and will invade, Taiwan.”

Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of Tokyo’s post-war reparation deal.

It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China.

The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Kai-shek’s son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.

Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by ChungKuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.