Taiwan ruling party says China 'enemy of democracy' after meddling allegations

By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks to members of the American Chamber of Commerce at their annual general meeting in Taipei

By Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's ruling party denounced China as an "enemy of democracy" on Monday following fresh claims of Chinese interference in the island's politics ahead of presidential and legislative elections on Jan. 11.

The allegations, reported by Australian media, were made by a Chinese asylum seeker in Australia who said he was a Chinese spy. China, which claims Taiwan as its sacred territory, to be brought under Beijing's control by force if necessary, has branded the asylum seeker a fraud.

The Chinese man, Wang Liqiang, also provided details of Chinese efforts to infiltrate universities and media in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, which has been rocked by months of anti-government protests.

Cho Jung-tai, chairman of Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party, which favors Taiwan's formal independence, said there needed to be further investigations, noting that a lot of fake news came from China.

"The enemy of democracy is China. At present Taiwan's most ambitious opponent, competitor, is also China," Cho told a news conference in Taipei.

Taiwan's presidential office cited Tsai as saying on Monday that the allegations were being probed, and that people should not reach conclusions before a complete investigation was done.

Among several allegations leveled, the would-be defector said he had helped guide positive media attention toward certain Taiwanese politicians, including President Tsai's main opponent, Han Kuo-yu of the China-friendly Kuomintang party.

The Kuomintang's Han said he would drop out of the election if he has taken any money from the Chinese Communist Party.

Speaking at a separate news conference, Kuomintang's spokeswoman Wang Hong-wei said the issue was one of "blundering Communist espionage" that should be investigated immediately, and accused the government of seeking to use the matter to "manipulate elections".


DOUBTS

China's state-backed Global Times tabloid said in a Monday opinion piece that Wang Liqiang sounded like an "opportunistic liar, probably a swindler".

Three Taipei-based diplomatic and security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters they also doubted whether Wang was who he claimed to be, though his allegations were plausible.

"Our assessment is he is most likely not who is says he is," said one of the sources.

Separately, Taiwan is investigating two directors of a Hong Kong-listed company which was named in the Australian reports as being involved in Communist Party infiltration of Hong Kong universities and media, the Justice Ministry's Investigation Bureau said on Monday, without giving details.

Wang said he was part of an intelligence operation working within Hong Kong-listed China Innovation Investment Limited to infiltrate Hong Kong universities and media with pro-Communist Party operatives to counter the territory's democracy movement.

In a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange earlier on Monday, the company said the reports were "all fictitious and forged" and that Wang had never worked there.

The company said that it had received notification from Executive Director Xiang Xin and alternate Director Kung Ching that they had been about to leave Taipei Taoyuan Airport when Taiwanese investigators requested their cooperation in an "investigation on the matter of the news reports".

"In fact, Mr. Xiang and Mrs. Kung knew nothing about the issues exposed in the news reports," the statement said. It said both directors had engaged Taiwan lawyers to provide assistance.

It was not immediately clear who their lawyers were.

The company declined to provide further details beyond what was in the statement.


(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)