Taiwan’s ruling party candidate William Lai accused Beijing of unprecedented interference in the self-governing island’s upcoming elections.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Lai, who is also vice president of Taiwan, said that China’s election meddling was its “most serious ever,” accusing Beijing of using “military threats, economic coercion, cognitive warfare, and misinformation” to manipulate voters.
Lai’s remarks came on the same day Taiwan issued an alert over a Chinese satellite that had flown over the island’s southern airspace. Beijing has in recent years ramped up military exercises around Taiwan, which it claims to be part of its territory.
China accused of intimidating voters with psychological warfare
Lai’s comments echo a toughening in Taiwan’s already strong stance against Chinese interference in the island’s matters. Earlier this week the Taiwanese defense ministry said Beijing’s deployment of balloons ahead of the pivotal Jan. 13 vote was “an attempt to use cognitive warfare” to intimidate Taiwanese people. And in a weekend campaign rally, Lai, viewed as a separatist by Beijing, told voters that China was using warships, warplanes, and fake news to “divide voters.” The vice president later warned that if a Beijing loyalist was elected president, there would be “no democracy in Taiwan,” and that the island would “become like Hong Kong.” Lai’s top opponent, Hou Yu-ih of the nationalist Kuomintang party, did not deny Chinese intimidation ahead of the elections but accused the DPP of provoking war by calling for Taiwanese independence.
Chinese influence campaigns gain momentum online and on the ground
Taiwanese researchers said that, for the first time, Beijing’s efforts to influence voter perception have been observed both online and in person. One Taiwanese criminologist, who is also running as a parliamentary candidate for the DPP, said that some social media accounts were hacked during the election campaign and used to spread fake news stemming from Chinese accounts, the Financial Times reported. Separately, last week Ma Chih-wei, an independent candidate running in concurrent parliamentary elections was detained and held incommunicado on charges of allegedly taking more than $32,000 in campaign financing from Chinese Communist Party members, with the requirement that she bring home details about Taiwanese intelligence, Focus Taiwan reported.