Taiwan investigates spy’s claim Beijing spent US$200 million trying to influence presidential election

Lawrence Chung

Authorities in Taiwan have begun an investigation into claims that a self-confessed Chinese spy, who is seeking asylum in Australia, was part of a multimillion-dollar campaign led by Beijing to interfere in its upcoming presidential election.

Officials from the island’s security and investigation agencies are also looking into allegations that Han Kuo-yu, the presidential candidate for the mainland-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) party, accepted a 20 million yuan (US$2.8 million) donation from Beijing in the run-up to his victory in the Kaohsiung mayoral election in November last year.

The government had “taken serious note of the case” and “national security units have set up a committee to follow up” on evidence already collected, the presidential office said in a statement on Saturday.

Self-confessed spy Wang Liqiang is seeking asylum in Australia. Photo: Handout

According to reports by the Australian media, the alleged spy, identified as Wang Liqiang, said Beijing’s military intelligence agencies had directly interfered in the politics of Hong Kong and Taiwan.

He also accused Beijing of buying media coverage, infiltrating universities, funnelling donations to favoured candidates and creating thousands of social media accounts to attack Taiwan’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party government, The New York Times reported.

The mainland’s intelligence efforts included creating more than 20 media and internet companies to launch “targeted attacks”, and investing about US$200 million over an unspecified period in television stations in Taiwan, the report quoted Wang as saying.

He said that he had personally helped to funnel donations totalling about 20 million yuan to Han during the 2018 polls, but did not explain how such a large sum of money failed to arouse suspicion.

The presidential office did not make a link between Wang and Han, but hit out at Beijing over its alleged meddling in last year’s elections in which the KMT achieved a sweeping victory.

Beijing considers Taiwan part of its sovereign territory awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary. It has suspended official exchanges with Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.

Han, who won a landslide victory in the Kaohsiung mayoral poll and will challenge Tsai in her re-election bid in January, denied accepting any financial support from Beijing.

“I solemnly announce that I have never taken a cent from the Chinese Communists, let alone 20 million yuan,” he said.

“If I had, I would resign as Kaohsiung mayor. And in this year’s presidential poll, if I had accepted even just one dollar I would immediately withdraw.”

He described the claims made by Wang as “groundless and illogical”, but said it was an open secret that Beijing had been trying to influence Taiwan’s elections for years.

The KMT also cried foul, saying it had been the target of Wang’s allegations. It urged the Taiwanese government to undertake a speedy investigation to ensure fairness and impartiality in the upcoming election.

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