Violent altercations at a concert held at National Taiwan University this past weekend are a powerful reminder that China’s United Front Work activities are intensifying and threaten Taiwan’s way of life.
Organized by the Taipei City and Shanghai municipal governments under a cross-Strait cultural agreement reached in 2010, a propagandistic music festival in Taipei descended into violence on Sunday after protesters disrupted it, prompting a reaction by pro-unification elements.
The event, “Sing! China: Shanghai-Taipei Music Festival,” (「2017《中國新歌聲》上海‧台北音樂節」) was sponsored by various Shanghai-based cultural groups, some which critics say may be involved in China’s United Front Work (UFW) efforts (the Taipei City Government page listing the organizers and sponsors of the event has since gone down). Organizers and sponsors include the Shanghai City Cross-Strait Cultural Exchange Promotion Association, the Shanghai Cultural Association, Shanghai Canxing Trading Co., Ltd., and Shanghai Voice of Dream Media Co.
Under “directives” from Shanghai, a metropolis which serves as a nerve center of UFW/propaganda/political warfare efforts, the Taipei City Government reportedly pressured National Taiwan University (NTU), the nation’s top university, into making its athletics field available for the concert. Moreover, according to reports, the city’s Department of Culture was also “instructed” by e-mail to mobilize concertgoers to make sure the venue was properly filled.
Alerted to the pro-China nature of the event (the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office even felt necessary to mention the event at its regular press conference) and the organizers’ denigrating reference to NTU as “Taipei City Taiwan University,” several Taiwanese purchased tickets and held a protest, which succeeded in derailing the event two hours after its commencement (this nevertheless did not prevent pro-Beijing propagandist outlets like the China Times and the PLA/China Association for Promotion of Chinese Culture (CAPCC)-linked China Review News reporting, complete with photographs, on the “successful” holding of the concert).
Looking for a fight
There is now evidence suggesting that members of pro-unification groups, including Chang An-le’s (“White Wolf”) China Unification Promotion Party (CUPP) and the Concentric Patriot Association, were prepared for the disruptions and intended to use those as justification for physically assaulting the students (for a ludicrous whitewashing of Chang’s activities see this recent piece by Yun Xia in The Diplomat). Reports indicate that at least three young protesters were injured when hit by retractable batons and baseball bats concealed in rolled-up posters. At this writing, one of them is still receiving treatment at hospital. Chang’s son, who was arrested earlier this year for participating in a violent protest at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport targeting Hong Kong democracy activists, was present at the scene and also threatened young protesters. The baseball bat-wielding individuals had reportedly been waiting in a car near the scene of the altercation.
Without wanting to give Chang and the organizers of this clumsy attempt at UFW cultural activity too much credit, it is difficult to conceive of this as anything other than provocation. In other words, the concert itself, what with its focus on unification rhetoric that has little traction in Taiwan, wasn’t so much an end as a means to an end. Clashes was the goal, and in a press conference Chang has since depicted the assault as a defensive measure in reaction to the “illegal” acts by the protesters.
This is straight out of the UFW playbook, whereby the revisionist force portrays itself as the victim of aggression and therefore has no choice but to respond aggressively.
This is straight out of the UFW playbook, whereby the revisionist force portrays itself as the victim of aggression and therefore has no choice but to respond aggressively. I suspect that the ultimate aim of all this — and such provocations certainly did not commence this weekend — is to spark a vicious circle of provocation and retaliation, and thereby generate spiraling unrest that would then compel the Chinese regime to take action in order to protect “Chinese compatriots” in Taiwan. The Nazis did this in the opening rounds of World War II; so did the Russians in Crimea and elsewhere more recently. Authoritarian/totalitarian regimes thrive on instability and will often try to create such an environment in order to further their agenda.
Viewed from this perspective, China’s silly propaganda affairs, which anyone who knows anything about Taiwan knows will not brainwash the Taiwanese in a million years, are not the inoffensive gatherings they seem to be; instead, they are conduits for something else. They are, above all, a trap.
Setting the trap
However tempting it may be for civilians to strike back (at some point local gangs from a pro-Taiwan bent could feel compelled to intervene), retaliation by physical means must be avoided and should be reserved to law enforcement authorities. Giving in to the temptation to strike back would play into Beijing’s strategy to foster discord and instability in Taiwan. The response to these nefarious activities, therefore, must remain legal and should be handled strictly by the government. Otherwise it will be very difficult to prevent violence spinning out of control, and it will furthermore play into Beijing’s strategy of delegitimizing and bypassing existing government institutions in Taiwan.
There have been sufficient incidents in recent years to justify a crackdown by police authorities against the CUPP and other groups (some with ties to organized crime) that gravitate around it; and there ought to be enough intelligence pointing to such organization’s working on behalf of a foreign power. Notwithstanding the symbiotic relationship that exists between organized crime and the intelligence apparatus (principally for the sharing of information), we have now crossed a line where the activities of some of those groups threaten not only public safety but the national interest itself. Therefore, half-assed responses such as that of the Taipei City police at the weekend, which showed up 40 minutes after the violence began (the nearest station was a mere 2 km away from the venue), must be investigated, and the individuals responsible for mishandling the incident must be reprimanded accordingly. Members of the force who, for one reason or another, refuse to do what is necessary to end such activities should be removed from their positions or retired altogether.
[T]he connections and activities of some individuals close to city governments must also be properly scrutinized. This includes persons who can only be described as pro-CCP agents who serve as advisers to some mayors on cross-Strait affairs — including Taipei.
Beyond that, the connections and activities of some individuals close to city governments must also be properly scrutinized. This includes persons who can only be described as pro-CCP agents who serve as advisers to some mayors on cross-Strait affairs — including Taipei. One often need not dig very deeply to come upon unseemly figures who have openly expressed their desire to work toward unification. The time has now arrived to expose these people, much as has been done recently in Australia and New Zealand.
China’s UFW is alive and well, and they’ve taken the fight to us. We must fight back, but we must do so intelligently. Journalists and academics have a role to play in uncovering these activities and exposing their authors; law enforcement and intelligence agencies, meanwhile, must step in and do what the law empowers them to do. We can no longer afford to pretend that such activities do not exist, or that they do not threaten our way of life.
This article was updated on Sept. 26, 2017; 09:05
Top photo of Chang An-le by J. Michael Cole.