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Taiwan intelligence says China leadership discussed election interference -sources

Published Dec 07, 2023 11:08PM ET Updated Dec 08, 2023 01:40AM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Chess pieces are seen in front of displayed Chinese and Taiwanese flags in this illustration taken, April 11, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Senior Chinese leaders held a meeting in early December to "coordinate" government efforts to sway upcoming elections in Taiwan, according to intelligence gathered on the island, part of a campaign Taiwan officials see as voting interference.

Taiwan officials have warned that Beijing is trying to nudge voters toward candidates who seek closer China ties in the Jan. 13 presidential and legislative election, which is happening as China ramps up military and political pressure to try to force the democratically governed island to accept its sovereignty.

The meeting in Beijing was held by the Chinese Communist Party's fourth-ranked leader, Wang Huning, who is also deputy head of Beijing's Central Leading Group for Taiwan Affairs, chaired by President Xi Jinping, according to multiple Taiwan security officials who discussed the matter with reporters.

Senior personnel from agencies including China's Publicity Department, State Security Ministry, Defence Ministry and the Taiwan Affairs Office attended, the Taiwanese security officials said, citing intelligence gathered by Taiwan. Those officials requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

U.S. President Joe Biden asked Xi to respect Taiwan's electoral process last month.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to a request for comment. When commenting on the elections, it has said it respects Taiwan's "social systems".

The other Chinese government departments did not respond to requests for comment. The State Security Ministry has no publicly available contact details.

The meeting focused on "ensuring the effectiveness and coordination of various work on the Taiwan elections", according to an internal Taiwanese memo summing up its intelligence on the Chinese meeting.

The meeting concluded that different agencies should "consolidate" their work on Taiwan, with the Publicity Department and a psychological warfare unit under the People's Liberation Army, called "Base 311", running influence campaigns to sway public opinion via news outlets and social media, the memo said.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office and the United Front Work Department were tasked with reaching out outreach programmes that included exchange activities with Taiwan politicians and discounted air tickets for Taiwanese living in China to fly home to vote, it added.

The memo said China would continue to "play up the narrative of a 'choice between peace and war'", which posits that if the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stays in power, a war with China is likely.

Beijing has repeatedly called the DPP dangerous separatists and urged Taiwanese to make the "right choice". The DPP's presidential candidate, Lai Ching-te, is leading in the polls.

Taiwan's government is on high alert for what they see as China's attempts to interfere in the elections by illicitly funding Beijing-friendly candidates using communications apps, group tours or misinformation campaigns, internal security reports reviewed by Reuters show.

Beijing has also sponsored cut-price trips to China for hundreds of local Taiwanese politicians ahead of the elections, Reuters has reported, citing sources and documents.

"They are coordinating their work on Taiwan in the final days to the elections," said one of the sources, a senior official familiar with Taiwan's security planning. "They want the best outcome possible."

In the meeting, Beijing also concluded that it must "adjust the pace" of their campaigns, that senior official said, pointing to negative reactions in Taiwan after recent Taiwan government scrutiny over the cut-price trips, as well as comments on Chinese state television, which has called the DPP's presidential candidates an "independence double act".

"If you are too obvious with election interference it could backfire," the source said.

(This story has been refiled to change the headline)

Taiwan intelligence says China leadership discussed election interference -sources
 

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