Taiwan’s government says China will try to interfere in the country’s January 2024 election by illegally funding pro-Beijing candidates through communications apps (the WeChat messenger) or group tours, reports Reuters citing internal reports from Taiwan’s security services.
One of the levers of influence will be a disinformation company aimed at uneducated sections of the population.
“They hope to influence Taiwanese people by reaching out to the grassroots,” said one Taiwan security official with direct knowledge of the matter. “They hope to influence swing voters who don’t have particular political affiliation and would vote for whoever gives them benefits.”
In addition, Beijing could also offer free trips to China to hundreds of Taiwanese involved in election campaigns ahead of the vote to “influence voting decisions”, another of the internal reports said, pointing to local politicians such as borough chiefs and village heads.
Taiwan’s security services are also studying the possibility of Chinese interference in the voting process at home or abroad.
As for the WeChat messenger (owned by Tencent Holdings), it can be used to finance the election campaign of pro-Chinese politicians.
According to Taiwanese law, receiving the money to finance an election campaign from “external hostile forces,” including China, is illegal.
According to one report reviewed by Reuters, which was based on Taiwanese intelligence, China may have sent money through the WeChat app, which allows for direct transfers between users and is available in Taiwan.
The report said the Chinese government could “instruct candidates to set up public WeChat accounts and then mobilise users to give monetary support via ‘viewer donation’.” WeChat allows individuals to transfer up to 50,000 yuan ($6,971) to others in a single transaction and a maximum of 200,000 yuan ($27,884) per day.
Reports say other possible funding channels include payment cards using the China UnionPay network, which allows Taiwanese people to legally withdraw money from bank accounts in China, as well as through direct transfers to charitable foundations in Taiwan.