TAIPEI (Reuters) – Allegations in Australian media about China’s efforts to interfere in Taiwan’s elections roiled the island on Thursday, after new reporting said a self-professed Chinese spy described a smear campaign against Taiwan’s ruling party.
Taiwan is already on high alert for efforts by China, which claims the island as its own territory, to sway the Saturday presidential and parliamentary elections, though Beijing has denied trying to do so. China has become the main focus in the campaign, especially its threats to “reunify” with Taiwan.
The allegations by Wang Liqiang, first reported by Australian media in November, have rocked Taiwan. He has detailed Chinese efforts to meddle in Taiwan elections and promote Communist Party influence in Hong Kong.
China says Wang is a convicted fraudster. Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, and its presidential candidate, Han Kuo-yu, whom Wang said Beijing was supporting, have also strongly denounced the claims.
The Kuomintang favors close ties with China, though says it will never betray Taiwan’s democracy and security, while the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) favors the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing.
The latest allegations in Australian media say Wang had been asked to recant his accusations by a senior Kuomintang official, and directly threatened by a Chinese businessman. He also said he was told to record a message falsely saying the DPP had offered to bribe him into discussing China’s influence efforts in Taiwan.
Speaking to reporters in Taipei, Alex Tsai, the Kuomintang official named in the story, said he had indeed spoken to Wang, and showed a video of the two chatting on a messaging app, but denied threatening him or offering inducements.
“Wang Liqiang is not a spy. That is already certain,” Tsai said.
Tsai said he was trying to get Wang to “tell the truth”, which he said was that his allegations were false.
The DPP expressed shock and said Tsai was not revealing the full truth in his dealings with Wang.
“This is an international scandal,” DPP legislator Kuan Bi-ling told a news conference held to respond to the accusations. “But Alex Tsai at his press conference did not offer an effective denial.”
Security and diplomatic sources in Taiwan have cast doubt on Wang’s previous claims, saying that although his allegations sounded plausible he was too young to be the senior operative he had claimed to be.
In response to questions about threats against Wang, a spokesman for the Australian police said: “The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is aware of threats made against a man currently residing in Australia. The AFP takes threats of this nature seriously and has commenced an investigation.”
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney. Editing by Gerry Doyle