The presidential election in Taiwan is scheduled to be held next month. And China is furiously trying to manipulate it through disinformation so that the pro-Beijing camp can win and lay the foundation for the “One China” plan, where Taiwan reunites with the mainland under communist rule. However, the Taiwanese government has taken measures to counter such disinformation to ensure that the island country remains free from Beijing’s clutches.
China’s disinformation campaign
Taiwan is currently ruled by President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who has refused to acknowledge Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is a part of China. As such, the Chinese government sees her as a threat to their overall plan of a united Chinese nation. Tsai’s main opposition is Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party (KMT), which Beijing wants to see in power since the KMT is more flexible about accepting China’s demands.
As such, much of the propaganda being run by Beijing in Taiwan focuses on discrediting Tsai and her party while projecting the Kuomintang as an ideal party to rule the island. “The stakes for the 2020 elections are high, as they will determine Taiwan’s future direction… [fake news was already at] alarming levels… So [Beijing] will intensify its influence operations — including fake news — to increase the odds that someone other than Tsai is elected,” Michael Cole, a Taipei-based expert at the University of Nottingham’s Taiwan Studies Program, said to South China Morning Post.
Some of the fake news stories Beijing has promoted in Taiwan include a claim that China rescued Taiwanese people who were stranded in a Japanese airport, that Tsai provided US$32 million to fund anti-government protests in Hong Kong, and so on. Pro-Chinese groups have also been buying up media assets in Taiwan, from social media platforms to TV stations. China has also been accused of pushing positive media attention to Tsai’s main opponent, KMT candidate Han Kuo-yu.
Facebook has collaborated with a nonprofit organization to set up the Taiwan FactCheck Center allowing it to track misleading posts. Once such fake news is identified, Facebook alerts the people who shared the post that it was fake. “Journalists focus on the truth, on describing something that happened. But for us, we want to prove that something has not happened. That’s much harder to do,” Summer Chen, the editor-in-chief of the Taiwan FactCheck Center, said to NPR.
Genki Fujii, a Japanese political scholar, has warned that Beijing might try to assassinate the opposition candidate in an attempt to delegitimize the election. He was speaking at the “Protecting a Free and Open Taiwan — One Taiwan” seminar that analyzed the upcoming election in the island nation and its impact on Japan.
Fujii says that “former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian suffered a gunshot wound before the 2004 election and Sean Lien, son of former Vice President Lien Chan, was shot in the face while stumping for a KMT candidate during the 2010 elections… in both cases there was the ‘shadow of the involvement of the Chinese Communist Party,’… before this election is over, the CCP will use this method again to disrupt Taiwan’s political stasis,” according to Taiwan News.
If the opposition candidate were to be assassinated, it would allow Tsai to remain in power, but would push Taiwan into chaos, which is what China wants. Fujii reminded the audience that the Chinese Communist Party had only gained power through killing and not through legitimate elections.