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Canada should learn from “unprecedented” Chinese interference in Taiwan’s election

Posted By February 5, 2024 No Comments

Ambassador Harry Tseng told reporters Xi Jinping’s regime is increasingly aggressive and troubled from within

An image from Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party propaganda organ, shows a Rocket Force parade.

(Written by Sam Cooper. Originally published here, republished with permission.)

Reports of President Xi Jinping’s growing purge of senior officials from China’s elite Rocket Force indicate Xi is facing mounting rebellions within the Chinese Communist Party, Taiwan’s senior diplomat in Ottawa said Tuesday.

Harry Tseng, formerly a top national security official for Taiwan, addressed a range of issues with Canadian reporters in the wake of Taiwan’s presidential election.

The incumbent DPP’s pro-sovereignty candidate Lai Ching-te won with 40 percent of the vote, but opposition parties favoured by Beijing gained seats in legislature.

“This election, Chinese interference was unprecedented,” Tseng told reporters, adding that Canada should learn from Taiwan’s experience in countering China’s election meddling.

“There is a lack of understanding in Canada of Taiwan as a democracy, and there’s even more lack of knowledge of what China is about,” Tseng said. “This is going to backfire on you. If you are hoping to cooperate with China, just how many lessons do you need to see?”

Taiwan recognized during its 2018 election that Chinese Communist interference was rapidly escalating and Beijing was “reaping the benefits of cognitive warfare to divide our society,” Tseng said.

In response, Taiwan’s legislature quickly acted, passing its new Anti-Infiltration Act in 2019.

Among a range of clearly defined crimes, this counter-interference law says that any person intervening for “foreign hostile forces” in Taiwan’s elections — including making political donations at the direction of foreign entities — can be jailed for up to five years.

Meanwhile, Taiwan learned much of Beijing’s interference comes through manipulation and funding of media entities tasked to disseminate sophisticated disinformation.

Tseng said Taiwan has found that Beijing plants media companies that initially report on news and social matters just like credible websites do, in order to gain followers.

But these sites are later weaponized to post “fake news” and sew confusion in elections and national security matters.

This past election Beijing’s psychological warfare reached a new level of technological mastery, Tseng said. He cited examples including spreading of a “deep fake” video which saw Lai — the presidential candidate China tried to defeat — “claiming the opposition (party) represents the majority view.”

Websites funded and controlled by China also use artificial intelligence and chatbots to spread disinformation virally, Tseng said, such as a claim the U.S. government had ordered Taiwan’s military to produce biological weapons.

Beijing’s efforts were not futile but Taiwan’s democracy proved remarkably resilient, and the election was deemed to be free and fair, Tseng said.

This is partly because during the past five years Taiwan’s various ministries have learned to work seamlessly with its intelligence agencies to rapidly counter Beijing’s narratives with facts.

Policy to counter disinformation includes what Taiwan’s government calls the “Triple-Two” rule.

“You don’t want to tackle disinformation at the expense of democracy,”
Tseng said. “We try to let the people know when disinformation has to do with national security. So if you are the responsible government agency, you must respond to fake news within two hours.”

And this response must be concise — 200 words in length or less — and easily understood, including two infographics.

Meanwhile, Beijing appears to be an increasingly fragile superpower, Tseng argued to reporters in Ottawa.

Two days after Lai’s win the tiny but strategically-placed island nation of Nauru severed its diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which according to Tseng, indicates Beijing’s retaliation and control of Nauru’s corrupt politicians.

But Xi has deep corruption problems of his own, Tseng believes.

He pointed to the snowballing story from last year of Xi’s purge of at least 70 ministry and military leaders linked to China’s Rocket Force and other sectors of the People’s Liberation Army.

Initial reports that one senior Chinese minister vanished due to a leak of intelligence from the Rocket Force clearly underestimated the challenges Xi faces from within, Tseng said.

“This is a collective action. A rebelling of some sort,” Tseng said. “To say that Xi does not face a challenge from inside the Communist Party or the military, is oversimplifying things. The scale of this purge tells us about the scale of corruption and disobedience that Xi is now facing.”

Meanwhile, the world can expect Beijing to ramp up its theatre of military threats against Taiwan in the coming weeks, Tseng said.

And Taiwan’s military is preparing for the worst.

The consensus among Taiwan’s leaders and military thinkers in the United States is that Taiwan’s military must be ready to repel landed forces from Beijing for at least three weeks, if Xi decides to attack, before firepower from combined forces of the United States and Japan can fully enter a battle.

“We are racing against time,” Tseng said.

Nazak Nikakhtar, former Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce, told The Bureau that Beijing will increase efforts to influence Taiwan’s society and economy.

“China is certainly frustrated by the DPP’s win,” Nikakhtar wrote in an emailed answer. “That said, China understands quite well that it has the power to leverage the divided government in order to exert substantial pressure on Taiwan – at a minimum, halt the DPP’s move towards independence.”

“Should Taiwan’s integration with mainland China happen, the supply chain impacts on the United States and our allies and trading partners is significant,” Nikakhtar added. “The raw materials and electronic component supply chains that we need to manufacture every high-tech item in the world, from telecommunications equipment and computers to aircraft, vehicles and military weapons will be lost.”

Vice President William Lai of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which calls the island of 24-million a sovereign state, leads with about 37 percent of support in the most credible recent polls.

Yu-ih HOU of the Kuomintang — the party favoured by Beijing — has about 33 percent support. Wen-je KO of the upstart Taiwan People’s Party, an outsider candidate loosely aligned with Kuomintang, trails with 18 percent.

President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party wants to subsume Taiwan and refuses to engage with DPP as Beijing ramps up threats of a military invasion, while Kuomintang and Ko’s party both pledge to extend olive branches to Beijing, if elected. A coalition ticket deal between Kuomintang and Ko’s party fell apart in November.