Beijing using organized crime rings and pollster payoffs to interfere in Taiwan's upcoming election
Beijing's election interference methods and actors are part of Chinese Communist Party's United Front political warfare: Taiwan officials
In a tightening presidential election that will impact geopolitical tensions and global trade next year, Taiwan security officials are battling sophisticated Chinese interference run through organized crime gambling rings, manipulation of pollsters, and disinformation warfare, the nation’s legislature has heard.
Taiwan’s presidential election is Jan. 13, and the outcome will shape the growing competition between democracies led by the United States and authoritarian states led by Beijing.
Vice President William Lai of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which calls the island of 24-million a sovereign state, leads with about 37 percent of support in the most credible recent polls.
Yu-ih HOU of the Kuomintang — the party favoured by Beijing — has about 33 percent support. Wen-je KO of the upstart Taiwan People's Party, an outsider candidate loosely aligned with Kuomintang, trails with 18 percent.
President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party wants to subsume Taiwan and refuses to engage with DPP as Beijing ramps up threats of a military invasion, while Kuomintang and Ko’s party both pledge to extend olive branches to Beijing, if elected. A coalition ticket deal between Kuomintang and Ko’s party fell apart in November.
Lai’s large polling lead from mid-2023 has collapsed, and voters may be experiencing fatigue after eight years of DPP rule and escalating cognitive warfare and military posturing from Beijing.
Taiwanese officials are concerned that Beijing’s election interference is peaking in the weeks before the presidential vote.
"The way the Chinese Communists interfere in elections is very diversified," Taiwan National Security Bureau Director-General Ming-yen Tsai told a parliamentary committee session in October.
He said officials are “paying special attention to the Chinese Communists cooperating with poll and public relations companies for the possibility of manipulating opinion polls and issuing them to interfere in the elections.”
In his November brief to Taiwanese lawmakers, Tsai confirmed Beijing has been funding some polling companies and cultivating academics in apparent efforts to confuse public opinion. But Tsai also revealed new details on investigations of a Chinese election interference schemeThe Bureau reported on earlier this year.
Taiwanese police and intelligence have discovered an active election-interference scheme run by underground casino networks that are directed and funded by Beijing, Tsai told lawmakers in November.
The scheme involves betting on the upcoming presidential election and also involves online gaming companies operating internationally, Tsai told the committee.
The Bureau broke news of this complex scheme on a reporting trip to Taiwan in early September.
Deputy-Minister Jyh-horng Jan of the Mainland Affairs Council informed international journalists that Chinese agents work with gambling bookmakers abroad.
“I will share an example that has been happening in Taiwan and probably elsewhere, including Canada,” Jan said in September. “This is a very classic tactic of China’s election interference.”
“In the lead up to elections there will always be illegal election operations in Taiwan, so China tends to take advantage of such operations and they will work with the operators from these election gambling rings,” Jan said.
He explained that Beijing’s agents manipulate the betting odds of certain candidates so that underground betting markets — somewhat like a horse-racing version of political elections — start to influence the results of election polling, which could have an outcome on actual election results.
At a press conference in Taipei in September, The Bureau asked Deputy-Minister Jan to clarify whether these operations include Beijing’s operatives and Fujian transnational crime groups that are based across the Taiwan Strait.
These same Fujian crime groups have been associated with so-called Chinese police stations in Chinese diaspora communities in North America and Europe.
Jan didn’t answer directly, but said Beijing tasks transnational crime groups to interfere in diaspora communities.
“We've been facing China's United Front for over half a century in Taiwan and I think China’s tactics have been changing all the time,” Jan told The Bureau. “Since we are in the lead up to a presidential election next January, we know that they have already started the United Front campaign against us.”
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