● 方恩格（Ross Darrell Feingold）／前美國共和黨海外部亞太區主席
By Ross Darrell Feingold
Former Asia Chairman, Republicans Abroad
“It is suspected that organized crime syndicates are a primary conduit for the Chinese government to funnel an estimated NT$35 billion (US$1.13 billion) in financial support to pro-China organizations and political parties to run propaganda campaigns in an attempt to subvert the nine-in-one elections, they said.”
This appeared in a Taipei Times (part of the Liberty Times media group) article published on November 15, 2018 prior to Taiwan’s local elections on November 24 that year, and cites officials at the Ministry of the Interior's National Police Agency Criminal Investigation Bureau as claiming this is the amount of money China will spend to subvert the election.
This past week the China Times asked both the Ministry of the Interior National Police Administration, and the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau, about the dollar amount cited in the Taipei Times article. Their reply was that they have no such intelligence, and that the Taipei Times report is speculation.
What the Taipei Times wrote later appeared in multiple research reports, commentaries, and books authored by foreign scholars about Taiwan politics, China-Taiwan relations, and China’s information (or disinformation) operations directed at Taiwan. As sometimes happens in the academic world, once reputable scholars cite something, it then appears elsewhere without further fact checking.
A research report was published in October 2019 by the Global Taiwan Institute cites the Taipei Times article. Subsequently, the Global Taiwan Institute research report was cited in, among other publications, a research report jointly authored by Institute for the Future’s Digital Intelligence Lab, Graphika and the International Republican Institute, a research report published by The Brookings Institution, a research report published by the Harvard University Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, a commentary published by the United States Army University Press Military Review, and a book published by the United States Marine Corps Press”.
With Taiwan’s local elections upcoming on November 26, foreign language media and overseas scholars again produce large amounts of commentary about Taiwan politics and China’s information campaigns directed at Taiwan. If the Chinese Nationalist Party does well and the Democratic Progressive Party does poorly, no doubt many foreign language analyses will blame Chinese information operations.
This author finds such analysis patronizing to Taiwan’s democracy. Usually, those making such claims offer little evidence to prove China’s information operations influence Taiwan voter decisions. It ignores the reality that voters might have simply liked a non-Democratic Progressive Party candidate more, or disliked the Democratic Progressive Party more, than the other choices. It also ignores the fact that not long after the November 2018 local election, in January 2020 the Democratic Progressive Party was extraordinarily successful in the presidential and legislative elections. If China could so successfully subvert the 2018 local election, it is not plausible China’s subversion skills would deteriorate so quickly.
Out of curiosity, this author searched open-source information for election related references to NTD35,000,000,000 in the period prior to the November 2018 local election.
On July 16, 2018, Commonwealth Magazine published a report that, based on data from the 2014 local election, estimated total local election spending by candidates to be NTD34,800,000,000. Assuming the Commonwealth Magazine report is accurate, an additional NTD35,000,000,000 in election spending injected by China would be obvious in the form of advertisements, candidate paraphernalia, rallies, etc. Recipients of this enormous amount of funding would come to the attention of the authorities and be prosecuted for various violations of applicable laws. In fact, the few prosecutions that occurred for violations of the Political Donations Act in the 2018 election, such as the prosecution of Zhang Xiuye, involve relatively small amounts of money.
Closer to when the Taipei Times article claimed China would spend NTD35,000,000,000 to subvert the 2018 local election, a Mirror Magazine report published on October 24, 2018 cites police as estimating NTD35,000,000,000 will be wagered on Taiwan’s 2018 local election, some of which wagers came from bettors in China (though the vast majority was wagered by people in Taiwan). Of course, money wagered by China-based betters is not the same as money spent by the Chinese government to subvert the election.
This author expects this commentary to be criticized. Some will say that because China does in fact target Taiwan with disinformation, the accuracy of the allegation as to the amount spent (NTD35,000,000,000) to subvert the 2018 local elections is irrelevant. Some might say that Taiwan must maintain good relations with influential think tanks and scholars in the United States who are “Anti-China, Save Taiwan” regardless of the shortcomings in their commentaries. Some might say this commentary should be ignored because it is published in the China Times, a media often accused of being pro-China.
China’s information operations directed at Taiwan are certainly a danger to Taiwan’s national security. However, inaccurate information about China’s information operations, whether it originates in Taiwan or outside Taiwan, and which appears to benefit certain politicians or scholars, even if not an equivalent danger to Taiwan’s national security as China’s information operations, does not make Taiwan safer either.