Top Chinese government official Wang Huning reportedly held a meeting in Beijing in early December to coordinate efforts to intervene in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election, which is scheduled for January 13, 2024. A number of different Chinese government departments and agencies were reportedly assigned specific tasks with the aim of subtly influencing Taiwan’s presidential election without attracting international scrutiny. Agencies with representatives attending the meeting include the CCP’s Department of Propaganda, the Department of Taiwan Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of National Security, and the CCP’s United Front Work Department.
The key strategy of China’s cognitive warfare against Taiwan has been to present voters with a “choice between war and peace.” Although Xi Jinping recently stated in public that China does not have plans to attack Taiwan in 2027 or 2035, Beijing still wants Taiwanese voters to feel that there is a threat of war if Taiwan refuses to peacefully integrate with Mainland China.
Beijing’s layered, multi-channel information campaign aims to manipulate Taiwanese public opinion while avoiding the most overt forms of interference that could provoke international condemnation.
The shift from overt influence strategies of the past to a more subtle, distributed approach may reflect China’s current economic weakness, which limits its ability to spend large amounts of money on influence campaigns. Beijing’s continued efforts to influence the politics of Taiwan despite current economic headwinds demonstrates the importance that China places on its Taiwan unification objective.
One specific tactic employed by Beijing is to offer visits or discounted tours in China for Taiwanese representatives from the media, businesses, and government. Local officials are taken on exchanges and given discounted tours with the hope that Beijing can win influence and change these representatives’ perceptions and voting behavior. Other tactics includes using China’s propaganda departments to amplify Beijing’s criticisms of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, as well as distorting media reports coming out of Taiwan before disseminating them through Chinese social media to sway public opinion.
Taiwan has implemented safeguards against electoral interference, and analysts say that China’s influence / incentives may have limited impact on voting behavior. However, the high-level coordination led by a senior Chinese leader demonstrates the priority Beijing places on covertly intervening in the Taiwanese democratic process to serve its political agenda of asserting control over the island.
Source: Voice of America, December 8, 2023