Taiwan lawmakers expected to pass anti-infiltration bill 10 days ahead of elections

Lawrence Chung

Taiwan’s legislature is expected to pass a controversial bill on Tuesday to criminalise political activities that are backed or funded by Beijing, 10 days ahead of the island’s presidential election.

Despite mounting criticism from the opposition parties, the ruling, independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party – which has a majority in the legislature – has vowed to pass the anti-infiltration bill, which was sent directly to the floor for review without going through a first reading.

“We have tried in vain to reach a consensus with the [opposition] Kuomintang legislative caucus on the bill in cross-party negotiations, and we will go ahead with the vote for its passage,” DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming said on Monday.

President Tsai Ing-wen has pushed for the bill to be passed by Tuesday. Tsai has repeatedly accused Beijing of meddling in the run-up to presidential and legislative polls on January 11, and said the legislation was necessary to counter efforts to influence the elections.

Beijing views Taiwan as a renegade province that should be brought back under mainland control, by force if necessary.

“There is a growing concern in Taiwanese society that China has infiltrated Taiwan by expanding its influence over Taiwan on all fronts,” Tsai said in a televised policy presentation on Wednesday. “We need to build a safety net for national security and there is an urgency for us to do so,” she added, explaining why she was pushing for the bill to be passed as soon as possible.

Under the bill, anyone who receives funding, instructions or donations from “external forces” to mobilise public rallies, for election campaign activities, to lobby government officials or lawmakers, or disrupt the social order could be jailed for up to seven years and fined up to NT$10 million (US$332,000).

DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming said they had “tried in vain to reach a consensus” with KMT lawmakers. Photo: CNA

The presidential office on Monday said that as Taiwan was facing a serious threat from the mainland, there was an urgency for such a law “to counter persistent infiltration” from Beijing.

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But the Beijing-friendly KMT called the legislation “a political tool” used by Tsai and her government to silence dissent.

“Actually, many of the articles in this controversial bill can be found in the election and recall law, the public rally and other relevant laws,” KMT chairman Wu Den-yih said. “By introducing new legislation, the Tsai government is just using this as a political tool to purge the opposition and to paint us as Chinese communist agents.”

Wu also said Tsai was using the legislation to help canvass voter support ahead of the elections.

Business leaders including Foxconn founder Terry Gou have also voiced concern about the bill, saying there could be repercussions for businesspeople based on the mainland, who were not aware that certain activities may have political consequences.

Gou said he worried that “the passage of the new law may have a negative impact on Foxconn and its mainland Chinese business associates”, according to Taiwanese newspaper United Daily News.

The government needed to provide detailed information on the bill before it was signed into law, he said.

But Chen Ming-tong, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s top policy body for cross-strait affairs, said the bill would not affect law-abiding citizens on the mainland.

“The legislation will crack down on acts of infiltration, not normal people who are working or studying on the mainland,” he said, adding that it was aimed at countering Beijing’s efforts to expand its “illicit influence on Taiwan”.

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Yu Ying-lung, chairman of pollster the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, said Tsai and her party appeared to be using the bill to shore up voter support for the DPP.

“The DPP has been successful in playing the anti-China card to generate fear that Taiwan could lose its sovereignty and be taken over by China,” Yu said. “By calling it an urgent bill that must be passed by the end of the year to counter Beijing’s infiltration, the DPP aims to consolidate support in the final leg of the campaign so that it can keep its majority in the legislature.”

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