by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Tsai Ing-wen/Facebook
THE PASSAGE OF the Anti-Infiltration Act yesterday, on the last day of the year, is more likely a political stunt by the DPP aimed at attacking the KMT more than anything else.
First, the passage of the law is too late to actually combat efforts to influence the 2020 elections. There are only ten days remaining before the Taiwanese presidential and legislative elections are set to take place on January 11th.
Though the Anti-Infiltration Act comes out of a longer series of efforts by pan-Green parties such as the DPP, the NPP, and the TSP to pass legislation aimed at combating Chinese attempts to interfere in Taiwanese elections, Tsai only announced the Anti-Infiltration Act on December 15th at a campaign rally. It proves an unusual move for Tsai to announce policy in such an off-the-cuff manner. Some speculation is that Tsai announcing the bill in an off-the-cuff manner was actually deliberately staged, or that Tsai deliberately announced the bill at such a late stage in presidential campaigning in order to force the DPP party caucus to move quickly on the matter.
The DPP may fear losing the majority in the Legislative Yuan after elections, which may make it difficult to pass such a bill. However, if so, it is to be question as to why the DPP only decided to move on the bill at this juncture, despite months of discussion about the bill.
Alternatively, it is possible that Tsai announced the bill with the primary aim of provoking resistance from the KMT. In line with claims by the KMT that the DPP is conducting a “Green Terror” through its investigation of illicit assets retained by the KMT from property seizures during the authoritarian period and attempts to pursue transitional justice for the past crimes of the authoritarian period, it would be expected that the KMT would put up sharp resistance to the bill. Indeed, the KMT did claim that the DPP was acting in an authoritarian manner to push through the Anti-Infiltration Act—yet its resistance to the bill furthers the link for Taiwanese voters between the KMT and Chinese efforts to influence the elections.
However, one does not actually expect the bill to do much to prevent Chinese efforts to influence the election. The provisions of the Anti-Infiltration Act provide for up to five years imprisonment and fines up to ten million NTD for acting as an agent on China’s behalf. This pertains to specifically to political donations, lobbying, aiding election campaigns, disrupting social order or the right to assembly, and attempting to disrupt elections or recall campaigns.
Yet the legal punishments called for by the anti-infiltration law are fairly light by the standards of Taiwanese law. For example, while drug laws in Taiwan are severe compared to other parts of the world, imposing one to seven years imprisonment and fines of one million to five million NTD are similar in severity to legal punishments for possession or transportation of Category One to Three narcotics. This seems of similar severity to the punitive measures of the Anti-Infiltration Act.
Drug laws in Taiwan of this level of severity have failed to deter drug usage or trafficking in Taiwan. As such, one generally expects the provisions of the Anti-Infiltration Act to also not prove particularly deterring of efforts from the Chinese government or their local collaborators to influence Taiwanese elections, perhaps in the same way that similar punishments have failed to deter drug usage or drug selling. And given that many of those collaborating with the Chinese government to influence Taiwanese elections are primarily motivated by ideological reasons, one expects legal punishment to generally fail to deter such individuals.
Likewise, one does not actually expect the DPP to take any strong action to pursue individuals using the Anti-Infiltration Act. The DPP is wary of being accused of politically persecuting political opponents in an undemocratic manner. Despite the KMT and other pan-Blue groups accusing the DPP of carrying out a “Green Terror,” the Tsai administration has allowed most high-profile examples of individuals accused of seeking to conduct espionage activities on behalf of China to remain free and active in political life.
A prominent example of such an individual would be New Party youth spokesperson Wang Ping-chung, who was accused in 2017 of attempting to organize a Chinese spying ring through a media platform run by him and other young spokespersons of the New Party, Fire News. Wang recently appeared on national television to represent the New Party as its representative during televised party policy presentations earlier this month. The New Party was again accused of aiding Chinese disinformation efforts in an investigative report published by The Reporter earlier this month, but one still expects actions by the Tsai administration to be relatively restrained.
It is another question as to whether a different administration, such as a KMT one, would in fact be able to use the Anti-Infiltration Act as a means of targeting political dissidence. That hypothetical seems unlikely at present, but is not impossible down the line. Yet either way, passing the Anti-Infiltration Act seems unlikely to deter efforts to influence the 2020 elections. Pushing the bill through was more than likely a political stunt, more than a serious attempt to combat election interference.