TAIPEI (Reuters) - Election campaigning in Taiwan was hit at the weekend by new allegations that Beijing had tried to meddle in the island’s politics.
A Chinese defector, named as Wang “William” Liqiang by Australian media, gave a sworn statement to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, or ASIO, about Beijing’s efforts to influence politics in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia.
In particular, Wang said he helped guide positive media attention toward certain Taiwanese politicians, including President Tsai Ing-wen’s main opponent, Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party.
Han said that he would drop out if it was shown that he had taken money from China’s Communist Party.
China said in a statement on Saturday that Wang is a convicted fraudster who held fake travel documents.
Taiwan, claimed by China as its territory to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if needed, is already on high alert for Chinese attempts to sway presidential and legislative elections scheduled for Jan. 11, whether through disinformation campaigns or military intimidation.
“Taiwan was the most important work of ours: the infiltration into media, temples, and grassroots organizations,” Wang said through a translator in a televised interview on Australia’s Channel 9 “60 Minutes” program on Sunday.
The details about what China is suspected of doing in Taiwan quickly provoked strong reaction from both Han and his party and Tsai and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which supports Taiwan’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing.
Speaking on a campaign stop in eastern Taiwan on Saturday, Tsai said China’s “shadow” was becoming more and more obvious.
Taiwan must not let China destroy its democratic values, she added.
Deputy Foreign Minister Szu-chien Hsu said in an interview with Australia’s Channel 9 on Sunday that Taiwan was facing “multiple” threats from China.
“Xi Jinping is to disrupt us and undermine our credibility and decrease our citizens’ trust in government,” he said.
DPP Chairman Cho Jung-tai, writing on his Facebook page, said the Kuomintang was teaming up with the Chinese Communist Party against Taiwan and urged people to use their vote wisely.
“Will one ballot decide whether Taiwan wants to go into totalitarian China with the Kuomintang?” Cho wrote.
The Kuomintang called the reports in the Australian media “quite sensational”, adding it hoped the government did not use this to “play the fear of the communist’s card”.
Han told reporters he had doubts about what the defector was claiming, asking how the Kuomintang lost the last presidential election in 2016 if China really was swaying elections.
If he had taken money from China’s Communist Party, Han said he resign from his post as mayor of the southern city of Kaohsiung, to which he was elected a year ago.
“In this year’s presidential election, if Han Kuo-yu has taken even one cent, he will immediately drop out of the race,” Han told reporters, adding he needed more information.
“Can Mr. Wang please come directly to Taiwan, and not hide overseas.”
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said a statement that Beijing was not intervening in Taiwan’s election, and called accusations to the contrary “nonsense”.
Taiwan’s government says it is investigating Wang’s claims, and is asking Australia to provide further information.
Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party.
While no peace treaty has ever been signed, Kuomintang delegations these days visit China regularly. Han met the head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen in March.
(Corrects paragraph five to say held, not traveled on, fake documents.)
Writing by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; editing by Jane Wardell