Taiwan security officials step up monitoring over fears mainland-based citizens will try to influence election

Lawrence Chung

Taiwan will step up its efforts to monitor mainland-based businessmen and women amid fears they will try to influence the upcoming elections, a senior security official said on Monday.

The head of the National Security Bureau said there was concern that “certain actions” were being conducted to influence January’s vote.

In the presidential election, which is being held concurrently with the vote to select the legislature, Han Kuo-yu, the candidate of the mainland-friendly opposition Kuomintang, is challenging President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

There have been claims that Beijing is trying to influence the island’s elections, hoping its favoured candidate Han will replace Tsai.

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The disclosure follows Beijing’s recent announcement of 26 preferential measures for Taiwanese businesspeople and students on the mainland in what the island’s government criticised as an attempt to woo more Taiwanese into identifying themselves with the mainland.

“The biggest effect of the 26 measures is to lower the public’s guard towards the mainland and to make them feel like standing [with Beijing],” Chiu Kuo-cheng, director general of the National Security Bureau, told a session of the legislature on Monday.

Chiu was responding to a query by Johnny Chiang Chi-chen, a KMT legislator, who asked whether all mainland-based businesspeople, their dependents and students would be targeted for monitoring.

The 26 measures, announced by State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office on November 4 in Beijing, will supplement the “31 measures” announced in February last year that claim to give Taiwanese who study and work on the mainland the same treatment as mainland residents.

About half the new measures are for Taiwan-funded companies operating in mainland China – allowing them to take part in the construction of major technical equipment, 5G, civil aviation and other projects; and giving them equal access to financing, trade relief and import and export services.

The rest offer such benefits as allowing Taiwanese to seek help from mainland embassies abroad and provide better services in transport, housing and the evaluation of professional titles.

Chiu said that, according to official figures, around 400,000 Taiwanese lived and did businesses on the mainland, about 10 per cent of whom had mainland residence cards.

Chiang asked whether the fact that 40,000 people had residency permits was viewed as a serious security threat and whether they risked arrest if they returned to the island.

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“The National Security Bureau has stepped up the monitoring of those who have had mainland residency status for a long time, Chiu replied.

“So far we have concerns that certain actions have been in place to try to influence our elections and promotion of our administrative work.” He did not elaborate.

Over the past week Tsai and her ministers have condemned the 26 measures, accusing the Beijing government of trying to divide the Taiwanese people and influence the elections.

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Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that must return to the mainland fold, by force if necessary. It has suspended official exchanges with the island since Tsai became president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle as the basis for reunification.

Meanwhile, the Tsai government is pushing through a Chinese Communist Party Agent Bill, which some mainland-based Taiwanese fear will curb their ability to do business freely.

The proposed legislation would mean that certain actions – for example, meeting senior officials – could seen as taking a bribe from those officials to influence Taiwanese elections or politics.

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