Taiwan Quick Take: Anti-infiltration bill concerns

That the People’s Republic of China has an active campaign to infiltrate into Taiwan’s society, media, temples and political process is without doubt, and Taiwan is by most international assessments is “ground zero” for the PRC’s United Front activities.  Other countries–most recently Australia–have passed laws targeting similar infiltration activities in their countries.  The threat is significant and real, and must be addressed.

However, it must be addressed with care.  An astute lawyer on Twitter described the DPP’s bill as being like a “college undergrad who started writing their paper the night before it was due”.  A vague, poorly constructed law could cause more harm and discord than it solves.

When approaching the bill, the purpose must be kept clearly in mind: to protect Taiwan’s free democratic process, including freedom of speech.

Concerns are widespread, which the DPP-leaning Taipei Times acknowledges:

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislative caucus are attempting to push through an anti-infiltration bill targeting individuals or groups acting under the direction of “infiltration sources” to aid and abet foreign actors. The bill’s content and the DPP’s insistence on pushing it through its third reading on Tuesday next week are proving contentious.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), chairman of the Taiwan People’s Party, has said that he agrees with the bill in principle, but would need to see details ironed out.

People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong, who is also the PFP’s presidential candidate, has said that the definition of terms and the scope of the draft are too loosely defined, and might place Taiwanese businesspeople and students in China in legal jeopardy. He also wants the bill’s contents to be subject to stricter legislative review and not to be rushed through before the Jan. 11 presidential and legislative elections just because the DPP has a legislative majority based on an “old mandate.”

Hon Hai Precision Industry founder Terry Gou (郭台銘), politically aligned with Ko and Soong, yesterday backtracked from staging an occupation of the Legislative Yuan akin to the “Sunflower movement” if the DPP continued with its plan to rush the third reading, but still demanded more transparency in the process.

The DPP caucus has said that the passage of the bill is crucial for national security, adding that other nations, such as Australia, have enacted similar legislation. It also said that the bill does not target businesspeople or students, only people that carry out the bidding of foreign powers to interfere in Taiwan’s political process.

Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), campaigning for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Wei-chou (林為洲) and the KMT’s presidential candidate, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), on Wednesday also questioned the scope and clarity of definitions in the bill.

These positions are all reasonable.

The KMT remains steadfastly opposed to the bill, but from the above it’s clear that while many other parties and political heavyweights agree a bill needs to be done, the bill itself as it stands is flawed. If the DPP pushes through the bill without support outside of their own party and close allies (the NPP has a different proposed bill), it risks being viewed as illegitimate.  Considering the stakes–a potentially heavy stick over what is deemed “free speech” or not–legitimacy is crucial.

It is very interesting that James Soong isn’t saying he is entirely against a bill, but rather wants the bill “subject to stricter legislative review and not be rushed”.  Soong knows an awful lot about the subject: He was the head of the Government Information Office during martial law (including during the aftermath of the Kaohsiung Incident).  Whether he genuinely supports a bill being passed, or is hoping to push for it to be crushed in the legislative process by the KMT via “stricter legislative review”, isn’t clear–but if he and his KMT-allied People’s First Party can be convinced to be on board with such a law, it would go a fair way to adding legitimacy.  It’s certainly worth sounding them out about.

The DPP has made some efforts, according to DPP legislators:

Separately, the Legislative Yuan issued a notice to convene all legislative caucuses at 2pm today to review matters pertaining to the bill.

Officials from the Ministry of the Interior, the Mainland Affairs Council, the Central Election Commission, the Ministry of Justice and the National Security Bureau have been invited to the meeting.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said on Facebook that he hoped the caucuses could rationally debate the issue.

The DPP’s version of the bill has been amended three times, in accordance with public opinion, showing that the party cares about what the public thinks, DPP Legislator Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) said.

On the other hand, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has refused to discuss the issue since the DPP broached the subject on May 31, Wang said, adding that it was the KMT that has shut down channels of communication.

The bill clearly defines contraventions as accepting money from foreign or enemy forces; campaigning, holding a referendum or lobbying for them; and disrupting gatherings or processions on their behalf, he said.

The KMT, as a mature political party, should resume negotiations and read the draft legislation, instead of being afraid over nothing, he added.

Critics have concerns, from the same article:

“While the president has said that there is room for discussion regarding the bill, there really is not,” Tamkang University Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies associate professor Li Da-jung (李大中) said at the seminar hosted by the Association of Strategic Foresight in Taipei.

The definition for “infiltration” could vary significantly and might be interpreted in various ways, which could usher in a chilling effect and undermine protection for human rights, he said.

Such legislation is detrimental not only to cross-strait relations, but also to human rights, he added.

The concern for cross-strait relations suggests that this professor might be pan-blue (pro-KMT), but that doesn’t mean the concerns are illegitimate.  Pan-blues know they will be the ones coming under scrutiny, and are scared–and not without reason.  The DPP was founded with the goal of ending the KMT’s one-party state, and some in the party will not consider their party’s goal won until the KMT ceases to exist.  One official was impeached over trying to use state resources to dig up dirt to defame KMT member Hou You-yi, and they placed a partisan figure in charge of the Central Election Commission.

The DPP wants to get the bill passed fast.  The election on January 11 is looming, and as politicians they are under pressure to “do something” by their base.  By all means they should do something, but not at risk of undermining the very democracy they are trying to protect.  The passage of the bill before the election would do little to nothing to protect the process this time, it will take time to implement.  The DPP should take the time to get it right.


Photo: By KOKUYO – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58421350

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