President Tsai Calls for Talks on Anti-infiltration Law Before Election

With the presidential election in Taiwan just two weeks away, President Tsai Ing-wen has called on parliament to resume discussion of a proposed anti-infiltration bill that her government says is essential to guard against Beijing’s political infiltration. The draft law had earlier been criticized by Beijing, which denies meddling in Taiwan, and also by the main Taiwanese opposition party, the Kuomintang, as an attempt at electoral gains by Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party. At Reuters, Yimou Lee reports:

The legislation is part of a years-long effort to combat what many in Taiwan see as Chinese efforts to influence politics and the democratic process on the island. China claims Taiwan as its territory, to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if necessary.

[…] Speaking at a policy presentation on live television, Tsai said other democracies around the world had either already passed or were looking at passing such legislation to prevent Chinese interference in their internal affairs.

“Compared to these countries, Taiwan is more directly confronted with various threats and infiltration from China,” said Tsai.

But some people at home think this “democratic protection net” is a provocation and akin to martial law, she added.

[…] Those who have concerns about the law need to detail exactly what those concerns are and not just sprout empty phrases against it, Tsai said. [Source]

The bill is again subject to debate in parliament next week, where it could become law before the new year. China has a history of election interference in Taiwan, and has in recent years been steadily courting Taipei’s few remaining allies to pledge to Beijing.

At the Nikkei Asian Review, Lauly Li and Cheng Ting-Fang report on particulars contained in the bill, and on opposition from Beijing and the Kuomintang:

The proposed law would punish those who help “external counterforces” organize political activity, disrupt social order or lobby lawmakers. The external forces are not specified, but analysts say the legislation clearly targets Beijing propaganda campaigns.

[…] China flatly denies any interference in Taiwan affairs. Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson for Beijing’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, told reporters on Dec. 11 that “China never attempts to meddle in Taiwan’s elections.”

As for the anti-infiltration law, Zhu said: “We have noticed the ruling DPP has amended laws to reach political goals and to restrict the ordinary [cross-strait] exchanges… It has caused a lot of unrest among Taiwanese people and the business community.

[…] The Kuomintang’s legislative caucus whip, William Tseng, said the DPP’s drive to ram the bill through this year suggests it is motivated not by national security but by the upcoming elections.

“We already amended five existing bills to better prevent disinformation. What’s the need to hurry to pass a new bill ahead of the elections?” Tseng told Nikkei. “Not to mention the bill lacks a clear definition of external forces but comes with heavy penalties. We fear the bill would hurt Taiwan’s freedom of speech and freedom of press.” [Source]

Similar concerns about the longevity of Taiwan’s freedom of speech were voiced in April over Taiwan’s plan to ban Chinese-owned video streaming services given fears that they could be used for political influence. In response to concerns about Beijing’s attempts to influence the presidential election results through disinformation, crowd-sourced fact-checking groups and government task forces have been mobilized. The Committee to Protect Journalists earlier this month released a 33-page report focused on Beijing’s efforts to undermine the freedom of the press in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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