Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen looks for boost from claims ‘Chinese spy’ helped her rival

Lawrence Chung

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s re-election campaign has been given a fresh boost after a self-professed mainland Chinese spy claimed that he had worked on operations to infiltrate and disrupt the island’s democratic system.

The claims by Wang Liqiang – who also said he had carried out undercover operations in Hong Kong – have yet to be confirmed by Australia, where he is seeking political asylum.

However, the case has already become an explosive topic on the self-ruled island, with Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party using it to illustrate what they describe as a serious threat from Beijing.

While Tsai has not explicitly tied the claims to her campaign for the January 11 presidential vote, analysts believe the case is a godsend to the president, whose pledge earlier this year to prevent Beijing from swallowing up the island has acquired greater resonance with voters in recent months.

“No one can deny that China has long wanted to retake Taiwan … and for a long time, it has been a known fact that China has used spies to infiltrate Taiwan,” William Lai Ching-te, Tsai’s running mate, told a campaign rally in the southern county of Pingtung on Tuesday.

Wang’s claims – first aired in the Australian media last week – have attracted attention across the region, including a claim that he had helped funnel around 20 million yuan (US$2.8 million) to Han Kuo-yu, Tsai’s main challenger, during his successful bid to be elected mayor of Kaohsiung last year.

Han and his party – the mainland-friendly Kuomintang – immediately cried foul after the reports emerged, insisting that they had nothing to do with Wang or Beijing.

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The mainland authorities have also sought to debunk Wang’s claims, with police in Shanghai releasing a statement saying the 26-year-old was a convicted fraudster who was wanted in connection with a car import scam.

The KMT have criticised the independence-leaning DPP for trying to exploit the case on the campaign trail, with Han accusing his rivals of trying to smear him.

On Tuesday, he said the government was deliberately trying to sow doubts in voters’ minds to sabotage his chances and that of his party in the legislative elections that will be held on the same day as the presidential vote.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen with her running mate William Lai. Photo: AP

“Don’t be fooled by such tactics,” Han said at a campaign rally in the eastern county of Taitung, adding that Tsai and her supporters should stop using scare tactics to “fool voters”.

The KMT has also staged a press conference where Weng Yen-ching, a former deputy director of the Military Intelligence Bureau, discussed his doubts about the validity of Wang’s claims.

Wang Kung-yi, a political-science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said the spying claims were a major boon for Tsai and her party.

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“Since the beginning of this year, the DPP has resorted to scare tactics to try to influence the elections.

“This includes using the unrest in Hong Kong and now the unconfirmed spy case so that voters will not vote for Han and the KMT out of fear that they might sell out Taiwan to the mainland,” he said.

Wang criticised the tactics as immoral and warned that they risk widening the political divide on the island.

Han Kuo-yu has accused his rivals of trying to smear him. Photo: EPA-EFE

Tsai has been leading in the polls since the start of the unrest in Hong Kong almost six months ago.

The latest survey by Taipei-based private research agency Cross-Strait Policy Association put the president on 50 per cent – 21 points ahead of Han.

Of the respondents in Tuesday’s poll, 51.2 per cent believed Tsai was better-placed to safeguard Taiwan’s status compared with 21.6 per cent for Han.

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