It’s one thing to adhere to democratic principles and to the ideals of freedom of expression, but what do we do when subversive forces bent on annexing Taiwan and corroding its democratic institutions exploit those very commitments to achieve their own undemocratic objectives?
One of the major challenges facing democracies as they attempt to protect their way of life against authoritarian “sharp power” is how to strike a balance between, one the one hand, combating the threat and on the other upholding our laws, constitutions, freedom of speech and democratic ideals in the process. Far too often, the values that we attempt to uphold create grey zones which anti-democratic forces have exploited to their advantage.
This has long been a major problem for Taiwan, which faces a ceaseless, determined and multifaceted campaign by United Front Work (UFW) groups and proxy organizations to undermine government institutions and corrode the system in favor of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and eventual unification.
It has long been said that Taiwan’s commitment to democracy has reached such a state of maturity that it can even countenance the existence — and legal registration — of political parties whose sole purpose is the unification of Taiwan with China. These parties, among the 335 registered parties in Taiwan, include the China Unification Promotion Party (CUPP, 中華統一促進黨) and the Taiwan Red Party (中國臺灣紅黨), among others, have worked hand in hand with the CCP and United Front Work organizations and, in the CUPP case, are known to have collaborated with pro-Beijing crime syndicates such as the Bamboo Union. The CUPP and its affiliated groups also have a long history of using physical violence and intimidation against civil society. The parties can field candidates in elections and have also collaborated with a constellation of civic groups which are also committed to unification. On some occasions, they have also worked on an issues-basis (e.g., opposition to pension reform) alongside civic organizations from the deep-blue came, such as the Blue Sky Alliance and the 800 Heroes, which, while not essentially committed to unification or pro-CCP, are nevertheless ultra-conservative and united in their vehement opposition to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and current government of Taiwan.
The continued existence of such political parties has long baffled observers who would like the government to adopt stronger measures to curb their activities. In the case of the CUPP, criminal investigators have raided its offices and have been attempting to determine whether some of its funding is obtained illegally, such as coming, directly or indirectly, from the CCP, which would be against the law. So far, no action has been taken.
The question that needs to be asked is whether the activities of such political parties, along those of their collaborators, are illegal or even treasonous. Technically, democracy and freedom of speech should guarantee their existence and ability to advocate for their ideals. In the extreme, this right even includes the advocacy of unification with the People’s Republic of China.
Conversely, the sum of their activities is inarguably detrimental to the nation’s democracy and its ultimate aim is the destruction of the state — the Republic of China (Taiwan) — as a free, independent and legal sovereign entity. That, in my opinion, goes counter to the ROC constitution and could therefore be interpreted as treasonous, especially if, as we suspect, their operations are directed, and possibly funded, by an external entity (the CCP).
Both the CUPP and the Taiwan Red Party have also been involved in efforts in recent years to bypass local and central government institutions and to establish direct links with counterparts in China. The CUPP, for example, has established the “Tainan Cross-Strait Exchange Promotion Association” and the “Cross-Strait Taiwan Guangdong Exchange Association” (both organizations are headed by Lin Kuo-ching, a central committee member of the CUPP). For its part, the Taiwan Red Party, which was created in Taichung on March 25, 2017, states in its declaration that it aims to “integrate the majority of Taiwanese farmers and fishermen” (「統合廣大農漁工」). Historically, those have been areas of Kuomintang (KMT) influence.
Should these parties be banned, and their operations curtailed? That is a difficult question whose answer depends on the amount of evidence that can be collected against them and the extent to which democracy is willing to bend its own principles in the name of its survival.
Eventually, and before it is too late, the government will need to make a choice and decide whether allowing these activities to continue, and these organizations to operate, remains safe for the nation, the constitution, and the values that underpin Taiwanese society.
The same issue arises on the Internet and in social media, where an entire ecosystem dedicated to unification and supporting organizations such as those discussed above. Hundreds of Facebook pages and “public forums” promoting the CCP agenda, venerating Xi Jinping and spreading loads of disinformation targeting the Tsai Ing-wen administration, have popped up in recent years (e.g., 愛與和平旗袍會台灣總會, 中华复兴论坛 Chinese Revival Forum and 炎黃子孫 團結奮起共築 中國夢). Unsurprisingly, the great majority of those pages also happen to support, and carry tons of articles about, a certain popular mayor in southern Taiwan. While many of the forums are open about their objectives, others have adopted a more subtle approach and pretend to be “apolitical,” but a quick perusal of their context quickly dispels any doubt as to the ultimate aim (for example, the “What the government doesn’t dare to let you know” 政府不敢讓你知道的事 forum, which among other things has videos “explaining” why Taiwan’s economy is supposedly in the doldrums). In some cases, the disinformation is unwittingly spread online by well-intentioned people who believe they are sharing legitimate information with their friends and contacts.
There are, literally, hundreds of others, and all, according to Facebook, are related. Cross-posting between these sites is rampant, using a mix of legitimate accounts and bogus ones, with mounting evidence of automation helping spread the reach and visibility of their content. Many of those accounts appear to be based in Taiwan; a good number are from Malaysia, and quite a few of them are from China, where Facebook is blocked by the government, suggesting the cyber army is equipped with VPNs or other means to jump over the Great Firewall. Social media apps, such as Line and WeChat (Weixin QQ), are also frequently used to distribute news about events as well as disinformation. (A telltale sign that an account may be more than a normal personal Facebook page is when one’s intro contains language like “People’s welfare, cross-Strait reunification, China’s rise, national rejuvenation, Chinese children, descendants of the Yellow Emperor, Celebrate Chinese culture” [人民福祉 兩岸統一 中國崛起 民族復興 *** 中華兒女 炎黃子孫，團結奮起 同揚 中華文化 共築 中國夢] — this is taken verbatim from an ostensibly personal Facebook page I visited while doing research for this article).
To use only today as an example, a poster of an event which will be held in Taichung on April 13 was distributed on various Facebook pages (the ones mentioned above included) and sent to an unknown number of recipients on Line and WeChat (see this link on the China Review News website [CRNTT, 中國評論通訊社], a Hong Kong-based publication associated with the China Association for Promotion of Chinese Culture [CAPCC, 中華文化發展促進會], a key platform of the Political Work Department under the Central Military Commission headed by Xi Jinping) . The event in question, titled “2019 Peaceful Integration and Development Forum” (2019和平統一融合發展論壇) and carrying the slogan “Promote the 1992 Consensus, Support Peace, Support Unification” (「宣揚九二共識、支持和平、支持統一」) , is co-organized by the Red Party Taiwan, the United Front Work Department-linked China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification (Taiwan) (CPPRC, 中國和平統一促進會 (台灣)) , the China Peace Development Association (中華和平發展促進會) — all peripheral CCP organizations — as well as the Taichung City Cross-Strait Business and Trade Association (台中市兩岸商務經貿協會).
According to Taichung police, since the event does not promote communism or “splitting the country” — i.e., advocating independence — the permit was granted as per Assembly and Parade Act regulations. Needless to say, revisions to the Act might be necessary at some point so as to include collusion with UFW/CCP-linked organs aiming to eradicate the ROC/Taiwan.
Eventually, and before it is too late, the government will need to make a choice and decide whether allowing these activities to continue, and these organizations to operate, remains safe for the nation, the constitution, and the values that underpin Taiwanese society. It’s one thing to adhere to democratic principles and to the ideals of freedom of expression, but the question needs to be asked — What do we do when subversive forces bent on annexing Taiwan and corroding its democratic institutions exploit those very commitments to achieve their own undemocratic objectives?
UPDATE: Li Yi (李毅), the Chinese sociologist with ties to Renmin University who appears on the event poster as the keynote speaker, is to be deported by tomorrow (April 12) as he entered Taiwan on a tourist visa and is thereby barred from participating in political activities. In recent years Li, who advocates the imposition of PRC laws in Taiwan and the total replacement of its institutions after unification, has made various appearances in conference circles in Washington, D.C. He has visited Taiwan on at least four occasions since 2017, and met with the CUPP’s Chang An-le in May 2017.
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