Photo: Hsu Tsun-hsu archives Agence France-Presse In Taiwan, the population faces daily and for a long time campaigns of interference and disinformation from the Chinese regime. Pictured is a rally in Taipei against pro-Beijing media, 2019.
The tentacles of the Chinese regime are spreading and interfering in all four corners of the planet, as the Canadian population saw last winter. But nowhere in the world is the influence of the People's Republic of China as entrenched as in Taiwan. Lies spread on social networks. Fake news published by Chinese state media. Political positions taken remotely to influence society. Taiwan has seen it all. And the island has acquired, over time, a sophisticated infrastructure to respond to its neighbor every time, in real time. An approach that is the opposite of that of the Canadian government… until now.
“For more than half a century, Taiwan has been fighting against the influence work of the Chinese Communist Party,” explains Jan Jyh-horng, deputy minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, the equivalent of a foreign ministry which is exclusively responsible for Taiwan's relationship with mainland China.
This text is published via our Perspectives section.
The Chinese Communist Party’s interference efforts are multiple. And they are multiplying, as the Taiwanese presidential election scheduled for January approaches. President Tsai Ing-wen, of the Democratic Progressive Party, will step down after two terms. His vice-president, William Lai, is seeking his succession. Beijing, however, is worried about his independence aspirations and prefers the candidate of the opposition Kuomintang party, Hou Yu-ih, traditionally closer to China.
As a result, a growing number of influence maneuvers have recently been noted by Taipei. Deputy Minister Jan cites news articles unfavorable to the Democratic Progressive Party as an example. Political analysts who took to the television airwaves to criticize Vice President Lai's stopover in the United States this summer. Or even a hostile outing from a Taiwanese business association against the same candidate. “By doing so, Beijing is trying to give the impression that the Taiwanese are opposed to certain electoral candidates, when, in fact, these votes are those of the People's Republic of China,” explains Mr. Jan at a press conference with Le Devoir and around twenty other international journalists visiting Taipei last month.
“Disinformation spreads like a virus,” illustrates the deputy minister. To deal with this, the Taiwan government has focused on raising awareness among its population.
The system is intended to be simple and fast. When an attempt at disinformation is detected, a response is quickly published – within two hours at the latest – on social networks or on the Web. The truthful information is then disseminated, with a quote from the source of the lie, accompanied by a photo or graph.
Taipei offers Ottawa a helping hand to counter Chinese interference
The task falls to a small group of non-governmental organizations. The government is responsible for providing them with a database of factual information, which these NGOs can rely on to distinguish truth from falsehood. Since the population has been facing these campaigns of interference from the Chinese regime on a daily basis for a long time, the Taiwanese have developed the reflex to consult these fact-checking sources, say the authorities.
“We support the public, so that they can have access to all the complete and correct information. Because if we dismantle disinformation or misinformation as quickly as possible, or if we immediately reestablish the facts, we can thus prevent its spread”, in turn maintains the Deputy Minister of Digital Affairs of Taiwan, Lee Huai-jen, in particular responsible for IT security and digital space. The government does not fund the NGOs concerned, he emphasizes, “in order to maintain their integrity and objectivity.”
In Canada, the approach has until now been quite different. Justin Trudeau's government always refused, last winter and spring, to comment on or confirm Beijing's electoral interference and disinformation campaigns in order not to amplify these efforts and to avoid allowing them to influence Canadian politics.
Deputy Minister Jan does not share this view of things. “This misinformation is spread on social media or in private chat groups. What worries us is that, if ignored, it can mislead the population and sow confusion. This is why we choose to clarify things by denouncing it. »
Will Canada follow suit?
Conservative MP Michael Chong, who himself has been the target of disinformation and intimidation campaigns by the Chinese regime, views the Taiwanese strategy favorably. And he believes that the Canadian government already seems to have changed its attitude by favoring more denunciation of disinformation in near real time. He cites his own case as an example: Ottawa revealed this summer that Mr. Chong had once again been the victim of disinformation efforts by Beijing.
“Misinformation must be countered. Otherwise, it has the freedom to circulate without being contested and thus to multiply. The question now is how to counter it,” raises Mr. Chong, who was in Taiwan last spring with a Canadian parliamentary delegation to meet these same ministries in particular.
In addition to the Taiwanese model, the The European Union, for its part, has adopted a government mechanism, which reports to the European Commission, in order to mainly counter disinformation from Russia in its case.
Liberal MP John McKay, who was also on the parliamentary trip to Taiwan, believes that Canada must certainly draw inspiration from the experience of Taipei. “They are at the forefront,” he observes. “And as the saying goes: transparency is the best medicine. »
MM. Chong and McKay agree that in today's political and social climate, not all Canadians may be willing to take the word of a “fact check” from NGOs or government. In Taiwan, the public has been aware of it for years.
“We won’t know until we try,” Mr. McKay retorts, however. “In the meantime, we are allowing disinformation and misinformation to spread peacefully in our politics and our society,” he lamented.
This report was made possible thanks to the financial and logistical support of the ministry of Taiwan Foreign Affairs. The ministry has no editorial rights over the work of Devoir.