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Archive for the ‘Lone Island of Taiwan’ Category

Taiwan braces for pro-China fake news deluge as elections loom

By Amber Wang

Taipei (AFP)

June 27, 2019

With a presidential election looming Taiwan is bracing for a deluge of fake news and disinformation — much of it emanating from China and aimed at making sure Beijing’s preferred party wins the day, analysts say.

Torrential rain did little to put off tens of thousands of people rallying in Taipei last Sunday against what they have dubbed the “red media”.

The term is used to describe both legitimate news outlets and more opaque online sources that flood the democratic island with either pro-China coverage or outright disinformation.

“I don’t want to see ‘red forces’ invading Taiwan to control the media and manipulate what people think, to fool the public,” Alan Chang, a 30-year-old businessman attending the rally, told AFP.

Taiwan goes to the polls in January and the contest is set to be dominated by relations with China.

The island has been a self-ruled de facto nation in charge of its own affairs and borders for the last 70 years.

But Beijing maintains Taiwan is part of its territory and has never given up its threat to retake it, by force if necessary.

It has stopped communication with the government of President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking a second term, because she refuses to acknowledge the island is part of “one China”, while ramping up military drills and poaching Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic allies.

Tsai’s main challenger is the Kuomintang which favors much warmer ties with the Chinese mainland and is the party Beijing wants to see back in power.

– Fake rescue –

“The stakes for the 2020 elections are high, as they will determine Taiwan’s future direction,” J Michael Cole, a Taipei-based expert at the University of Nottingham’s Taiwan Studies Programme, told AFP, adding fake news was already at “alarming levels”.

“So (Beijing) will intensify its influence operations — including fake news — to increase the odds that someone other than Tsai is elected,” he added.

One particularly egregious example that sparked criticism of the government was a widely shared, but patently false, report that China rescued Taiwanese tourists stranded in a Japanese airport during a typhoon.

Last week Tsai’s office also asked police to investigate false claims on social media that her government had given US$32 million to finance huge anti-government rallies in Hong Kong.

Hu Yuan-hui, head of the Fact Checking Centre in Taipei, said the viral nature of disinformation is aided by many Taiwanese people using Chinese social media and messaging services.

“They (fake reports) tend to highlight the contrast between Taiwan and China to try to portray a chaotic Taiwan versus a strong China,” he told AFP.

Last November, Tsai’s party was hammered in local elections, largely due to a backlash over domestic reforms and a divisive push for gay marriage equality.

But analysts said there was also a surge in fake news items ahead of those polls.

– Media literacy –

A study by Wang Tai-li, a journalism professor at National Taiwan University, found 54 percent of people surveyed were unable to distinguish the fabricated report about Chinese evacuating people during the typhoon, which went viral ahead of the November vote.

“Disinformation campaigns were proven effective last year and they will be replicated in larger scale during the upcoming presidential election,” Wang predicted.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the false typhoon evacuation story originated on the Chinese mainland and was picked up by Taiwan’s social and traditional media, in a “carefully coordinated and extremely effective disinformation campaign”.

“Beijing has been targeting Taiwan with disinformation campaigns for decades… However, it is only recently that social networks have enabled these activities to have a viral impact,” RSF said.

US officials have also said Taiwan is “on the frontlines” of China’s disinformation campaigns.

“There is no question, at least in our minds, that China will try to meddle, they’ve done it in every previous election,” Randall Schriver, US assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said last week.

Source: Sino Daily.

Link: http://www.sinodaily.com/reports/Taiwan_braces_for_pro-China_fake_news_deluge_as_elections_loom_999.html.

Taiwan’s military trains for a Chinese invasion on the beach

May 30, 2019

FANGSHAN, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwanese tanks and soldiers have fired at simulated Chinese forces in an anti-invasion drill on the island’s coast. The live-fire drill on Thursday at a beach in southern Taiwan is part of an ongoing annual exercise designed to showcase the military’s capabilities and resolve to repel an attack from across the Taiwan Strait.

China claims the self-governing island as its territory. Taiwan split from China amid a civil war in 1949. The simulated response to a Chinese landing included assault helicopters, fighter jets and missiles launched at targets in the sea.

The Defense Ministry said the joint army-navy-air force operation tested the island’s combat readiness in the face of the Chinese military threat.

President Tsai says Taiwanese want to maintain self-rule

January 01, 2019

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwanese treasure their autonomy from China, the leader of the self-governing island said Tuesday, warning city and county officials to be open about and exercise caution in any dialogue with the Chinese.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s remarks come after major gains by a Beijing-friendly opposition party in local elections in late November. “The election results absolutely don’t mean Taiwan’s basic public opinion wants us to give up our self-rule,” she said in an 11-minute New Year’s address at the presidential office. “And they absolutely don’t mean that the Taiwanese people want us to give ground on our autonomy.”

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost to Mao Zedong’s Communists. The Nationalists rebased their government to Taiwan, but China insists that the two sides must eventually unite, by force if necessary.

The Nationalist Party, which in recent years has favored closer ties with Beijing, won 15 of 22 major seats in the local elections, reversing an advantage held by Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party. Tsai takes a more guarded view toward relations with China.

“What’s really needed between the two sides is a practical understanding of the differences between values, beliefs and lifestyles,” she said. China resents Tsai for declining to recognize its condition for dialogue: that each side sees itself as part of one China. Beijing has sent military aircraft near the island, squeezed Taiwan’s foreign diplomacy and scaled back Taiwan-bound group tourism.

A New Year’s statement from the Chinese official in charge of Taiwan affairs accused Tsai’s party of obstruction and deliberate provocation. “The broad masses of Taiwan compatriots are strongly dissatisfied with the hostility caused by the DPP authorities across the Taiwan Strait,” Liu Jieyi, the director of the Taiwan Affairs Office, said, referring to Tsai’s party by its acronym.

“To achieve the complete reunification of the motherland and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is the common aspiration of all Chinese people,” he said in a message published in an official magazine.

Experts say that China will likely offer economic incentives to Taiwanese cities and counties where officials take pro-Beijing views. Tsai warned officials against any reliance on “vague political preconditions” or “forced submission of secret passwords,” a reference to giving away secrets.

“We don’t oppose normal cross-strait exchanges, and even more we don’t oppose city-to-city exchanges,” she said. “However, exchanges across the strait need to be healthy and they need to be normal.” Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to give a speech Wednesday aimed at Taiwan on the 40th anniversary of the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan,” a pro-unification statement from China that called for steps to end the isolation between the two rivals.

Tsai would probably condemn any local official talking privately with Xi, said Shane Lee, political scientist at Chang Jung Christian University in Taiwan. “She thinks that’s not only immoral but even illegal, because foreign affairs are the power of the central government, not the local government,” Lee said.

Lo Chih-cheng, who heads the international department of the Democratic Progressive Party, said Tsai cannot do more with China, because Beijing would credit any progress to the Nationalists. She will do nothing radical to provoke China, but some voters are looking for more action, he said in an early December interview. “People enjoy the status quo, but it’s not enough to win the elections,” Lo said.

Tsai also announced that her government was introducing a three-year plan to attract Taiwanese investors home from China, where some face import tariffs raised by Washington in the U.S.-China trade dispute.

She said that Taiwan wants China to share data on an outbreak of African swine fever. Taiwanese officials are on alert against any infection on their island, which lies 160 kilometers (100 miles) across the Taiwan Strait.

Associated Press researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this story.

Taiwan ruling party suffers major defeat in local elections

November 25, 2018

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s ruling party was handed a major defeat in local elections Saturday that were seen as a referendum on the administration of the island’s independence-leaning president amid growing economic and political pressure from China.

Soon after the results came in, President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as head of the Democratic Progressive Party. She will remain as president and her resignation will have no direct effect on the business of government, although the results bode ill for her re-election chances in two years.

Rival China said the results reflected a desire of Taiwanese for better relations with the mainland. Ma Xiaoguang, the spokesman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said his government will continue to treat Taiwan as part of China and “resolutely oppose separatist elements advocating ‘Taiwan independence’ and their activities,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.

In another victory for China, voters rejected a proposal to change the name of its Olympic team to Taiwan from the current Chinese Taipei. They also approved a referendum opposing same-sex marriage in a setback to LGBT couples, though ballot initiatives in Taiwan are non-binding.

The DPP lost the mayoral election to the Nationalist party in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, where it had held power for 20 years. The Nationalists also defeated the DPP in the central city of Taichung, home to much of Taiwan’s light industry, while Ko Wen-je, the independent mayor of Taipei, the capital, narrowly won a second term. The Nationalist candidate in Taipei has asked for a recount.

At a brief news conference at DPP headquarters late Saturday, Tsai announced she was stepping down as DPP chair and said she had refused Premier William Lai’s resignation, saying she wanted him to continue her reform agenda.

“Today, democracy taught us a lesson,” Tsai said. “We must study and accept the higher expectations of the people.” The elections for mayors and thousands of local posts were seen as a key test for Tsai’s 2-year-old administration, which has been under relentless attack from Beijing over her refusal to endorse its claim that Taiwan is a part of China.

Tsai and the DPP won a landslide victory in 2016, but China swiftly responded by cutting all links with her government. Beijing has been ratcheting up pressure on the island it claims as its own territory by poaching its diplomatic partners and barring its representatives from international gatherings, while staging threatening military exercises and limiting the numbers of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan.

The Nationalists, known also as the KMT, had campaigned on their pro-business image and more accommodating line toward Beijing. Since her election, Tsai has walked a fine line on relations with China, maintaining Taiwan’s de facto independent status that the vast majority of Taiwanese support, while avoiding calls from the more radical elements of her party for moves to declare formal separation from the mainland.

Taiwanese officials had warned that Beijing was seeking to sway voters through the spread of disinformation online similar to how Russia was accused of interfering in U.S. elections. Although domestic concerns were in the foreground, China played a major factor in voter sentiment, analysts said.

“I think part of the reason for the vote on Saturday was concern about relations between Taiwan and mainland China,” said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “Their relations have slid backward.”

Saturday’s results also throw Tsai’s political future into question. While the DPP still controls the national legislature, local politicians are crucial in mobilizing support among grass-roots supporters.

“I’m afraid it will be a big challenge for her in 2020,” said Gratiana Jung, senior political researcher with the Yuanta-Polaris Research Institute think tank in Taipei. Economic growth, employment and pension reforms were among key issues in the elections, which drew high turnout from the island’s 19 million voters. Government employees who feel slighted by pension cuts that took effect in July probably mobilized against Tsai’s party, Jung said.

Nationalist Party Chairman Wu Den-yih told reporters Saturday that his party would keep trying to avoid diplomatic friction with China and ensure smooth two-way trade. “We hope the two sides will soon go back to a peaceful and stable trend in relations,” he said.

Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists rebased their government to Taiwan in 1949 amid the civil war with Mao Zedong’s Communists. They ruled under martial law until the late 1980s, when the native Taiwanese population began to take political office, mostly through the DPP.

The vote against changing the name used in international sporting events to Taiwan was seen as a test of support for independence. It was symbolic in nature, as the International Olympic Committee had ruled out a name change, which would be opposed by China.

Though referendums are only advisory, the vote in favor of restricting marriage to male-female couples will likely put lawmakers in a difficult position. They face both a court order to make same-sex marriage legal by 2019 and elections in 2020.

Olympic referendum: Shall it be ‘Taiwan’ or ‘Chinese Taipei’

November 22, 2018

Athletes from Taiwan compete at the Olympics under the name of a make-believe country: Chinese Taipei. They march behind an imaginary national flag and, if they win a gold medal, hear an “alternate national anthem” being played.

Imagine if France or Australia had to use an assumed name at the Olympics, or the United States and Japan were banned from flying their flags. A referendum to challenge this will be held in Taiwan on Saturday. It asks if the self-governing island should compete in international sports events — including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — as “Taiwan” instead of “Chinese Taipei.”

“We are the sole IOC member banned from using our own country’s name,” said Chi Cheng, a bronze medalist in the 1968 Olympics. “We are the only member who cannot sing our national anthem and fly our national flag. We are the only one. This shows how seriously China is suppressing us.”

No matter what voters want, nothing is likely to change. China’s authoritarian government has viewed Taiwan as a renegade province since the two separated in the 1949 civil war. The International Olympic Committee backs China, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics after spending $40 billion on the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

In a statement to the Associated Press, the IOC said it will not alter a 1981 agreement that Taiwan must compete as Chinese Taipei. Its executive board repeated that stance in meetings on May 2-3. “The agreement remains unchanged and fully applicable,” the IOC said.

That puts the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee in a bind. If the referendum passes, it could be required by Taiwanese law to go ahead with the name change pending approval from the legislature. But in a statement to AP, it said “we are bound by the Olympic Charter, the agreement we signed with the IOC in 1981, and also by the IOC executive board decision.”

Taiwan’s athletes are caught in the middle. Dozens protested Wednesday, fearing they could lose their chance to participate in the Olympics. Even if Taiwan was booted out, the IOC has frequently let athletes compete under an independent Olympic flag.

Jacqueline Yi-ting Shen, the secretary general of the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, declined to comment for this article. But she spoke about Taiwan’s predicament in an interview with the AP at the Asian Games in August.

“This gives us a chance to compete and make our strength known internationally, so we accept the pity that we have to compete under the name of Chinese Taipei,” Shen said. She added: “I’m sure that many people (in Taiwan) feel dismayed. But quite a lot understand that it is the reality in the international sporting realm. If we use our own name, we will lose the chance for our athletes. They will lose the playground, or the showcase they have. The right of our athletes to compete is our utmost concern. And I think most Taiwanese understand that.”

Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told a news conference this month that Taiwan was using the name issue to “politicize” sports. He said the referendum would damage Taiwan’s interests but gave no details of measures Beijing might take.

Earlier, China warned that Taiwan would “swallow its own bitter fruit” over the referendum issue. Taiwan’s ruling party, the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party led by President Tsai Ing-wen, has remained largely silent on the name change.

“There are international constraints on her (Tsai),” Dachi Liao, who teaches political science at National Sun Yat-sen University, told the AP. “She cannot speak out loudly on this; maybe doing something subtly, but never speaking out.”

Liao said the referendum is a proxy vote on independence, and China fears it could echo in the ethnic-minority regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. “People who support changing the name, many of these supporters are pro-independence,” Liao said. “The pro-independence people are feeling upset, so they try to find an opportunity to promote this kind of issue even though they know it may not pass.”

China has thwarted Taiwan’s every move to assert its independence, even in the sporting sphere. Earlier this year, Taiwan lost the right to hold the East Asian Youth Games, under reported pressure from China.

Taiwan held the Summer University Games last year with about 7,500 athletes. China skipped the opening ceremony, but competed in the events. Athletes from Argentina unfurled Taiwan’s real flag at the closing ceremony, waving an independence symbol that Taiwan athletes are forbidden from displaying.

The Argentines were reprimanded for breaking Olympic rules, but warmly applauded inside the stadium. China has warned international airlines and hotels not to use the word “Taiwan” on maps or other material.

The referendum needs one-quarter of Taiwan’s 19 million voters to be approved. Liao, the political scientist, doubts it will reach that threshold. If it does, the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee is likely to ask its membership what to do.

It risks IOC censure if it moves ahead. The IOC is reported to have warned it at least three times not to proceed. If it backs down, it’s thwarting the democratic will of Taiwan voters. “It’s insulting to us because everyone knows we are Taiwan,” George Chang, the former mayor of Tainan and a referendum organizer, told AP. “Chinese Taipei is not an area or a country. What is Chinese Taipei? Nobody knows. So let Taiwan be Taiwan.”

Taiwan participated in the 1972 games as the Republic of China. It boycotted the next several after its United Nations seat was handed to China, returning in 1984 after submitting to the name change and China’s rising clout.

Despite the roadblocks, the island of 24 million remains a regional power and placed seventh in the recent Asian Games, fielding a delegation of 550 and boasting stars like badminton’s No. 1-ranked woman Tai Tzu-ying.

Alexander C. Huang, who teaches political science at Tamkang University in Taiwan, said the island only faces more isolation if it challenges China. “Taiwan does not have much leverage or support our noble cause, to get our name right or to get our flag flying,” he said. “Maybe in the future … the atmosphere would lead us to that eventual goal. But not now.”

Associated Press video journalist Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan, and writer Chris Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

El Salvador, Taiwan break ties as China isolates island foe

August 21, 2018

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan broke off diplomatic ties with El Salvador on Tuesday as the Central American country defected to rival Beijing in the latest blow to the self-ruled island China has been trying to isolate on the global stage.

The break in ties means Taiwan is recognized as a sovereign nation by only 17 mainly small, developing countries. In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced that his government had established ties with El Salvador.

“History will prove that establishing diplomatic relations with China is in full accordance with the fundamental and long-term interests of the country and the people of El Salvador,” Wang said. Taiwan split from mainland China amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing, which considers Taiwan its territory, campaigns relentlessly to isolate the island globally. It cut off relations with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s government shortly after she took office in 2016 and has been steadily ratcheting up both diplomatic and economic pressure.

Earlier this year, the West African nation of Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic broke ties with Taiwan and resumed or established diplomatic relations with China. Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Tuesday condemned what he called China’s campaign of luring away Taiwan’s allies with promises of vast financial aid and investment.

Taiwan is willing to consider cooperating with its allies in education, farming or even infrastructure initiatives, Wu said, but refuses to compete with China in buying diplomatic support. Wu said that El Salvador had repeatedly sought large amounts of funding from Taiwan for a port project that a Taiwanese team of engineers dispatched by the government thought wasn’t economically feasible.

“We think this is an inappropriate development plan that risks causing both countries to fall into great debt,” Wu said, noting that some developing countries were increasingly concerned about the risks of unsustainable debt linked to Chinese investments.

Wu said El Salvador’s ruling party was also expecting Taiwan to provide funds to help it win in elections, but Taiwan refused. “It is irresponsible to engage in financial aid diplomacy or compete with China in cash, or even in providing illegal political money,” Wu said. “My government is unwilling to and cannot do so.”

Some analysts say Chinese President Xi Jinping, one of the most powerful Chinese leaders in decades, seems determined to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control during his time in office, which would place him in the history books alongside Mao Zedong.

The island’s 23 million residents are strongly in favor of maintaining their de facto independent status, but Xi has previously warned a Taiwanese envoy that the issue of unification cannot be put off indefinitely.

Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren said on national television that China and El Salvador would discuss ways to cooperate in trade, investment and infrastructure development. “It will give great benefits to the country and provide extraordinary opportunities on a personal level to each one of you,” he said.

The move comes just a day after China’s foreign ministry said it had complained to the U.S. over Taiwanese President Tsai’s visits this month to Los Angeles and Houston while in transit to diplomatic allies Paraguay and Belize.

The administration of President Donald Trump has been boosting relations with Taiwan amid a brewing trade war with Beijing. Tsai urged the island’s people to unite despite the pressure the government was facing diplomatically.

“Taiwan will not yield because of pressure,” Tsai said in a televised address. “We will be stronger and more united, and this will strengthen Taiwan’s determination to go out.”

Marcos Aleman in San Salvador, El Salvador, contributed to this report.

Taiwan’s Tsai travels in face of China diplomatic onslaught

August 11, 2018

BEIJING (AP) — When Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen departs Sunday for Latin America, she’ll be traveling to a region she’s already visited three times in two years. She doesn’t have many other options.

As Tsai crosses the halfway mark of her first four-year term, an eight-day swing through Paraguay and Belize is a reflection of how Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation has worsened in the midst of a suffocating Chinese pressure campaign. Just 18 countries — mostly clustered in Latin America, the South Pacific and Caribbean — still maintain formal ties with the self-ruling island, down from 22 when Tsai entered office in 2016.

Along with luring away Taiwan’s allies, China, which considers the island its territory, has frozen contacts with Taipei and sought to constrict its contact with international organizations. It’s also bringing increasing economic pressure and most recently has browbeat international airlines and businesses into referring to Taiwan as part of China, a move condemned by Taipei and its ally, the United States.

Still, maintaining even a reduced pool of diplomatic allies is important to maintaining Taiwan’s image of itself as a sovereign democracy, and affords its leadership with the occasion to assert their presence abroad. Tsai will also be transiting in Los Angeles and Houston, providing opportunities to meet with overseas Taiwanese civic leaders and American officials.

Although Tsai leads Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, which favors declaring formal independence from China, she has pursued a moderate China policy since taking office. But that hasn’t appeased Beijing, which has demanded that Tsai explicitly acknowledge an informal 1992 agreement that recognizes Taiwan as a part of China.

As a result, Beijing has “gradually rolled out punitive measures across the entire spectrum of activity and interactions,” said Jonathan Sullivan, director of China Programs at the University of Nottingham. “Going after allies is high profile and rich in symbolism.”

Faced with Beijing’s diplomatic onslaught, Tsai has prioritized cementing its ties with remaining allies and backers like the United States and Japan, with which it maintains close relations in the absence of formal diplomatic ties.

At the same time, she’s facing a dip in her domestic poll numbers, possibly, Sullivan said, due to a combination of Chinese pressure in the international arena and disappointment in her reform agenda at home.

On her trip this week, Tsai will attend the inauguration of Paraguayan President-elect Mario Abdo Benitez and address the National Assembly in Belize. China has traditionally moved carefully in Latin America, which it sees as falling under the U.S. sphere of influence, but has scored wins by flipping Panama and the Dominican Republic in the last 14 months at Taiwan’s expense, said Zhu Songling, a professor at the Institute of Taiwan Studies at Beijing Union University.

The Dominican Republic ditched Taiwan in May after it refused to match a multi-billion-dollar aid package offered by China. Flavio Dario Espinal, an adviser to the Dominican presidential office, told reporters in May that “socioeconomics reality now force us to change course” and embrace China, its $2 billion-a-year trading partner.

“The Chinese government has long respected the strategic thinking of the U.S. and we have shown restraint in the Americas,” Zhu said. “But these countries feel it’s in their national interest to flip to China, whose economic clout and attractiveness is on a whole different level compared to Taiwan’s.”

Tsai is increasingly coming under fire from her political base for her moderate approach to China, which has not ameliorated Chinese pressure. “Tsai has been criticized in Taiwan for being over-cautious,” Sullivan said. “It is a tricky line to steer, but it is becoming increasingly evident that Beijing has decided not to work with the DPP administration and is doing everything it can to undermine it in the short and longer term.”

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