Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has voiced support for democratic movements in Hong Kong on a number of occasions since taking office. Photo: Reuters

Taiwan’s 2020 presidential election is about the survival of democracy for a population of 23 million. Beyond domestic policies, however, the upcoming elections will heavily influence by two superpowers: China and the United States. As Washington is concerned about Beijing’s attempts to influence Taiwan’s presidential election.

Beijing has in recent months stepped up efforts to reunify what it considers a wayward province, flying regular bomber patrols around it and seeking to isolate it diplomatically. Brent Christensen, the de facto US ambassador to Taiwan, said any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including boycotts or embargoes, was of grave concern to the United States. “We believe that malign actors are using disinformation campaigns to make people lose faith in democratic institutions,” he told reporters in Taipei on November 22.

Recently, a suspected Chinese fraud named Wang Liqiang claimed he had entered Taiwan to work on subverting January’s elections, with the ultimate aim of unseating President Tsai Ing-wen. The Tsai government, claiming to believe it was easy prey for such a scheme, attempted to seize the opportunity to ram through the Legislative Yuan an “anti-infiltration bill,” to be used as a restraint against cross-Strait interchanges.

Wang claimed that he held Chinese, Hong Kong and South Korean passports, and that last May he received orders from Beijing to travel to Taiwan with his Korean passport; his assignment was to interfere in the Taiwan elections. However, according to a bulletin from the Shanghai Public Security Bureau, Wang is simply a fugitive fraud, and the target of his fraud is not intelligence, but a car-import scam. After he left China with a fake passport, he arrived in Australia, where he is seeking asylum.

The Taiwanese government has admitted it has no record of entry as claimed by Wang. What is even more embarrassing is that his claims were immediately debunked. A former deputy director of the Military Intelligence Bureau enumerated 10 major points of doubt, concluding that Wang’s “spy” story was sheer nonsense.

Still, it appears that Wang is no fool, knowing full well that relations are tense between the Australian and Chinese government, that the US, the UK and Australia have intelligence ties, and that Canberra would probably be happy to grant his asylum request, and would disseminate his story in the international community. And President Tsai, in her re-election bid, would fully utilize his fabricated “confession to crimes” in order to smear the Kuomintang candidate vying to take her job in the January poll.

However, now that the “spy” story has been debunked, the true intent of Tsai’s anti-infiltration bill has been exposed. The only question remaining is whether such political intrigues will affect how the Taiwanese people vote in January.

Kent Wang

Kent Wang is a research fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-America Studies (ITAS), a conservative Washington-based think-tank focusing on aspects of US-Taiwan relations, and is broadly interested in the United States-Taiwan-China trilateral equation, as well as in East Asian security architecture.

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