A senior expert on Chinese-Taiwan relations has told MEPs how he believes Beijing “sought to interfere” in Taiwan’s recent president elections.
Speaking in the European Parliament on Wednesday, J. Michael Cole claimed that China used a whole range of measures to try to influence the outcome of the poll at the start of January.
Taiwanese voters swept the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential candidate Lai Ching-te into power in this month’s poll, strongly rejecting Chinese pressure to spurn him, as China said it would not give up on achieving “reunification”.
Lai’s party, which champions Taiwan’s separate identity and rejects China’s territorial claims, was seeking a third successive four year term, unprecedented under Taiwan’s current electoral system.
Cole, a research fellow at the Prospect Foundation in Taiwan and Senior Advisor at the International Republican Institute (IRI) in the US), explained how China had “sought to interfere in electoral process in Taiwan.”
He said that China “has little soft power to influence the outcome of elections” and also “was unable to offer a narrative to appeal to the majority in Taiwan.”
As a result he said most of its efforts to interfere had been “coercive.”
He outlined 4 “key” areas where, he said, China had tried to influence the election, including “psychological warfare and threatened punitive measures.”
He claimed it had also tried to “co-opt” local politicians. Other accusations he made against China include “illicit funding, poaching of diplomatic allies and urging countries to support the “One china principal as opposed to the “One China Policy.”
There had been “threats” made to other countries he said which have led to some not even naming the winning sides in the election, he claimed.
“This all seeks to tarnish what Taiwan accomplished in this election.
“It is hard to quantify the influence all this had on outcome of the election but it is possible the winning margin would have been bigger without such interference.”
He was speaking at a hearing in Parliament on Wednesday which aimed to shed light on the implications of the 2024 Taiwan election.
Another speaker, Taiwan Ambassador Dr. Roy Chun Lee, also said Taiwan voters had been subject to “intimidation” by China in the election.
The newly appointed Taiwan Representative to the EU and Belgium, his first overseas posting, said, “The first winner of the election was the Taiwan population, not least as it was subject to the most intense and explicit electoral interference. Even so, we have made a decision independently and based on the electorate.”
“There was only one loser in the election and this is China. It is not happy about the outcome and fact that the DPP stays in power. It has already made its displeasure clear.”
Turning to current and future relations with the EU, he was it was in its interest to stand firm with Taiwan, “despite a surge in Chinese intimidation.”
The attempt in the election was “not only to intimidate Taiwan but the EU and its Member States,” he told the meeting.