Taiwan’s upcoming local elections are considered to be a skirmish prior to the presidential election in 2024. Beijing’s attempts to influence Taiwan’s political environment are known to local voters. Experts say that the impact of communist agents has been a major concern on the self-ruled island.
Nine local political offices will be voted on Nov. 26, including mayors, councilors, and local representatives.
In a recent interview with the Chinese language edition of The Epoch Times, experts on the island explained how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been meddling in Taiwan elections at all levels through agents in businesses and religious organizations.
Democracy Tainted by the CCP
Tzu-yun Su is a military analyst at Institute for National Defense and Security Research, a think tank in Taiwan.
He says there are three means the CCP routinely exploits to shape the political narrative on the island: agents who engage in information war; businesses that aid pro-CCP candidates; and grassroots organizations such as, religious groups and local agricultural and fisheries associations, that attract adherents in favor of a particular candidate.
According to Su, the CCP typically has its agents tempt its targets with financial incentives, also known as the “white gloves,” to aid a political figure, and often implicate the Taiwanese businessmen, local organizations, and the political candidates in its corrupt practices.
He explained that the CCP exerts its material influence through “cross-strait agents,” followed by cognitive warfare with disinformation. Therefore, it’s important to track the cash flow to prevent the CCP’s influence.
“The CCP adopts indirect and roundabout ways of cash flow [to Taiwanese businesses], such as granting them businesses in China through special licenses or via underground financial exchanges, similar to money laundering,” Su said.
He suspects that foreign investment in individual businesses in Taiwan is also a form of manipulation by the CCP. “The audits of cash flow and finance are worthwhile security-checks to the government,” Su said.
CCP Tactics Often Repulse Voters
Taiwan’s voters generally have a negative impression of candidates who have CCP support, according to Titus C. Chen, Associate Professor, Institute of Political Science, National Sun Yat-sen University.
He said, “Past elections in Taiwan showed that the CCP’s manipulation often backfired on the candidates.”
As for the cash flow, Chen pointed out that donations from China-based Taiwanese businessmen are often questioned regarding the sources of the funds, namely are they pure business revenue or political funds from the CCP?
Chen indicated that there are certain businessmen who collaborate with the CCP and their donations are considered to be foreign influence or interference in local elections.
He said, “Red capital influencing political figures is not surprising.”
Influence of Religious Leaders
Taiwan’s 2021 official data showed that there were a total of 15,183 temples and churches, and 943,874 active and regular participants attending local church and temple services and activities on the island.
In the name of religious exchanges, the cultural and language similarity has offered Beijing’s United Front Work Department access to the naive Taiwanese religious groups.
In 2019, the Taiwan-based Mirror Media reported that CCP agents infiltrated 30 temples’ organizations, including some of the most prominent temples in Taiwan.
The report revealed that CCP agent, Chang An-lo, known as “white wolf” to local gangs, received 500 million RMB (about $69.5 million) annually from the CCP.
Chang, president of the Taiwan-based Chinese Unification Promotion Party, which he founded in 2005, absorbed a number of leading figures of Taiwanese temples as its party members.
According to the report, these temples are alleged to serve as money laundering channels for capital from the mainland.
Chen indicated that the chairman of the temple or the head monk would give temple-goers hints to support a particular candidate. He said, “It is a political mobilization of those who share the same religious ritual.”
He mentioned that private donations from smaller temples are of specific concern because it’s difficult to track their activities, and that investigators would typically focus on the major temples.
Cyber Propaganda Gets Meticulous
Chen said that in the past, during elections online public figures received funds from unknown sources sponsoring a particular candidate just days or weeks before the election day.
But, he believes the tactics will be even more sophisticated for the upcoming elections.
He said, “It used to be that every YouTuber seemed to suddenly carry the same line, same slogan; but now, they can be categorized and specifically designed to fit different viewers and channels.”
It is unknown how efficient the cyberspace propaganda can get, in terms of the number of votes; but “The spreadability is wider than the temples and cheaper in cost,” Chen said.
Chen says the temple leaders are especially effective because of their connection to the local populace, and thus the elected heads of local offices.
Speaking of effectiveness, the candidate’s personal aid is the hidden agent that could serve the CCP the best, Chen noted.
Judging from the current situation in Taiwan, the CCP has shifted from supporting one particular political party to “secretly working on a specific candidate,” Chen says.
“The campaign advisers and even political operators under the table are often beyond the scope of media attention. Outsiders would not know about their overseas contacts with the CCP.”
The CCP’s manipulation of one political party on the island was ineffective based on the past elections, therefore, “To secretly support a specific candidate could be the latest move of the CCP,” Chen stated.
Taiwan, home to the government of the Republic of China after 1949 when then President Chiang Kai-shek lost the civil war in China to the CCP and retreated to the island, has its own constitution, military, education system, and elections. The CCP now claims Taiwan as part of its territory and conducts its united front work by infiltrating the island on all fronts, including the economy, education, technology, and politics.
Chun-Lin Hou contributed to this report.