Taiwan wary of China’s charm offensive ahead of presidential election
TAIPEI: Taiwan’s government believes China will renew a charm offensive targeting “opinion leaders” to win hearts and minds as the island prepares for presidential elections in less than a year, a security agency said in an internal report.
China, which regards democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own, has long pursued the island with carrots and sticks, threatening it with the prospect of military action while reaching out to those it believes are open to Beijing’s point of view are.
As Taipei and Beijing gradually resume travel links disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Taiwan security officials expect China to restart a campaign of influence that in the past has included all expenses paid for Taiwanese politicians to travel to China.
Starting this month, the campaign will focus on inviting “opinion leaders” to visit China, a Taiwanese security agency investigating Chinese activities on the island said in the classified report, a copy of which has been checked Reuters.
“The Chinese Communist Party is developing its exchange programs with Taiwan for the year. Various agencies linked to Taiwan will gradually resume invitations to Taiwanese at all levels to visit the mainland,” the agency said in the February report, citing intelligence information.
With Taiwan’s presidential election approaching in January next year, officials fear that Beijing may seek to incite hostility towards President Tsai Ing-wen’s government.
China refuses to speak to the government because it believes Tsai is a separatist because she refuses to accept Beijing’s longstanding position that China and Taiwan both belong to “one China.”
Tsai has dismissed China’s territorial claims and says only the island’s 23 million residents can decide its future, though she has repeatedly offered talks with Beijing.
China, which has never shied away from the use of force to gain control of its so-called “sacred” territory, has increased pressure on Taiwan in recent years to accept Chinese sovereignty, including conducting regular military exercises nearby the island.
Beijing is expected to try to use its campaign to persuade the public to support political parties more open to “reunification” or at least forging closer ties.
“They may want Taiwanese to support certain political parties that favor closer economic ties with the mainland,” said a Taiwanese security official investigating the matter Reuters.
The official, who asked not to be named, said China may invite a number of people alongside political and business leaders in hopes of quietly promoting its political ideology.
“The exchange programs may be in the name of sport, culture or commerce, but what worries us is what is being said privately,” the official said.
Activists hold the head of Chiang Kai-shek, then-President of the Republic of China, who fled to the island of Taiwan with his Nationalist forces in 1949 after losing a civil war and ruled Taiwan by imposing martial law at a march on the 76th anniversary of a violently crushed anti-government uprising known as Incident 228, on Tuesday in Taipei, Taiwan. (Photo: Reuters)
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The report did not name any individuals or parties that Taiwan believes could be targeted in the campaign, but Beijing has maintained long-standing ties with the main opposition party, the Kuomintang, or KMT, which traditionally favors close ties with China but strongly denies pro-Beijing.
The KMT vice chairman visited Beijing last month for meetings with senior Chinese officials, a trip the KMT said would “effectively de-escalate tensions” and improve communications.
Also last month, a group of Chinese officials paid Taiwan their first visit in three years to attend a cultural event in the capital, Taipei. The Mayor, a senior KMT member, welcomed them.
The KMT said the government approved the officials’ visit and called for efforts to “break the ice” with Beijing. The KMT also rejected any notion that the opposition was the target of China’s efforts.
“Why say this is Beijing’s unilateral ‘charm offensive’ against opposition parties?” the KMT said in a statement Reuters. “Even the United States is promoting cross-strait exchanges and peaceful dialogue.”
It said the ruling party had failed to take the initiative to ease tensions and improve communications, leaving it to the KMT to do so.
The Mainland China Affairs Council in Taiwan declined to comment. China’s Bureau of Taiwan Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
Taiwan’s security agencies closely monitored various Chinese groups on the island, including China’s quasi-government organizations responsible for affairs from trade to tourism, as well as Chinese students, the report said.
A second senior Taiwan security official said the island should be “on high alert” in light of China’s efforts to enforce its reunification embassy.
“They are looking for a way to bypass the Taiwanese authorities,” the official said.
Source: Crypto News Deutsch