Ever since Taiwan held its first direct presidential election in 1996, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has tried to influence the outcome of elections on Taiwan through implicit and explicit means. Many of you will remember the missile threat authorized by the CCP in 1996. And perhaps too, the harsh warning made by former Premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) during Taiwan’s 2000 presidential election, in which he told Taiwanese voters to “make a historical decision wisely,” otherwise war between Taiwan and China would become a “the logical necessity”.
However, Taiwanese voters seemed to disregard Zhu’s threats and elected the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as the president. Since Chen’s rise to presidency, the CCP has modified its means of influencing Taiwan’s politics through subtler ways, mainly by providing incentives for particular politicians, Taiwanese businesspeople, and media, in order to affect and mold the public opinion to create an image in favor of the China. In this post, I will summarize some of the political intentions behind the scenes and discuss how the KMT and the DPP respond to China’s interference.
There is abundant evidence that the CPP attempts to influence Taiwan’s domestic political scene. The DPP recently provided some evidence to support their suspicion of the CCP’s interference in order to help President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) be re-elected. DPP spokesperson, Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) outlined five tactics which China had adopted to ensure Taiwan’s elections would result in President Ma’s re-election. These include sending provincial-level purchasing delegations to boost economic performance, providing incentives to mobilize Taiwanese businesspeople in China to return to Taiwan to vote, allowing the assembly of Taiwanese businesspeople to campaign for President Ma, bribing some particular legislators to influence Taiwan’s policy-making, and hindering other presidential candidates from obtaining political donations from Taiwanese entrepreneurs who are active in China through direct or indirect threats.
Many more examples of such interference have been uncovered by the media. According to a report by Business Weekly magazine, DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) said China permitted Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) to brief senior Chinese officials on Ma’s “golden decade” platform at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 28: an explicit signal that Beijing backs Ma. Furthermore, according to media reports, DPP spokesperson Liang Wen-jie (梁文傑) said that Lai Xiaohua (賴曉華), wife of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), was investigated by the Chinese government for allegedly embezzling USD$300 million, which was listed as “media purchasing in Taiwan.” This outlay was supposed to be spent on “influence” within Taiwan’s media.
Confronted with these accusations, President Ma defended himself in a BBC interview, arguing that these allegations were made up by his rivals and none of them would be able to present evidence reasonable enough to bolster their claims. President Ma further justified his position, proclaiming “is Beijing kind to me, when it has missiles targeting Taiwan?”
The DPP showed the evidence that the CCP aided the KMT and thereby doubting the KMT’s sincerity to put the Taiwan’s interests in priority. While the DPP usually emphasizes on the CPP’s political intention harmful to Taiwan’s sovereignty and security but failed to distinguish the practical matters from political manipulation. From the DPP’s perspective, it seems that anything related to China is dubious and perceived negative. This kind of self-constraint weakens the DPP’s ability to convince people that it can deal with China issues in a proper manner.
The KMT believes that Taiwan can rely on China, and avers publically that politics can be separated from economics. This view is at odds with the CCP’s views on Taiwan, which put politics ahead of everything else. The KMT intentionally downplays the controversy of Taiwan’s national sovereignty and status. It rarely mentions the potential risks inherent in such an asymmetric power struggle between China and Taiwan, as well as the CCP’s insistent denial of recognizing Taiwan as an autonomous political entity.
The gap between domestic political attitudes towards China provides room for the CCP to polarize and divide solidarity in Taiwan and leeway to manipulate Taiwan’s politics. As a result, there is continuing controversy in defining national sovereignty and cross-strait relations, and it seems very unlikely that a consensus will be reached in a short period of time.
The CCP’s interference inTaiwan’s politics is nothing new. While the means of achieving this end have become increasingly delicate, and both carrot and stick tactics are conducted. Although there are various ways of implementation, the logic behind these tactics is the same: to provide attractive incentives for sympathetic elites while threatening and sanctioning troublesome ones. Applying this logic to the context of Taiwan’s elections, the target elites for the CCP include politicians, businesspeople, and the media. The most general tactic is to provide economic or material incentives in exchange for their cooperation. In other words, the CCP intends to influence public opinion through money politics, which can easily affect the outcome of elections, especially when it is linked to gambling behavior common in some electoral districts at the local level.
The CCP’s maneuvers to influence Taiwan’s elections are consistently operating behind the scenes and we should be aware of their methods and resist this interference. The Taiwanese democratic system is a result of many people’s efforts. In order to maintain the Taiwanese democracy, we should not compromise with any force that seeks to harm it.
Muyi Chou is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at Humboldt University of Berlin