Photo: Hsu Tsun-hsu archives Agence France-Presse In Taiwan, the population faces daily and for a long time to campaigns of interference and disinformation by the Chinese regime. Pictured is a rally in Taipei against pro-Beijing media, 2019.
Disinformation and foreign interference now pose “serious global harm,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned this summer. The number of countries that engage in this is limited, but they are also alone responsible for the majority of influence attempts. In the lot: the People's Republic of China. And among its targets: Taiwan. The island, which is at the epicenter of Beijing's efforts, wishes to form a united front with other democracies in order to ward off these intrusions. Taipei collaborates in particular with the Canadian government, to which its experts offer behind-the-scenes advice.
“Taiwan has been facing disinformation or infiltration campaigns for a long time,” explains the Taiwanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Wu, in a meeting with Le Devoir The Taipei government has set up an entire multi-ministerial structure capable of responding in real time to disinformation from the Chinese communist regime. Taiwan also manages on its territory the interference of China's United Front, which coordinates Beijing's influence efforts abroad. The Taiwanese Ministry of Digital Affairs deals with daily cyberattacks, which are three times more numerous every day in Taiwan than in neighboring countries.
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“China's disinformation does not destroy Taiwan, it makes us stronger,” maintains Minister Wu, in the offices of his ministry, where he welcomed a delegation of foreign journalists in September. “And we want to work hand in hand with the rest of the democracies to ensure that they too can resist the disinformation campaigns of China and Russia. »
As part of these efforts, Minister Wu says his government is currently cooperating with Canada. “We have indicated to our Canadian friends that if they feel that the disinformation campaigns, those of the United Front or any other attempts at interference are becoming too serious, we want to work with Canadian government officials to share our experience” , he revealed.
In Ottawa, the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, was circumspect. “Canada regularly collaborates with Taiwan to counter disinformation,” we simply commented, citing the collaboration of the G7 countries, with other countries in the Indo-Pacific region, to detect and counter disinformation. Minister Joly was not made available, over a period of two weeks, to discuss the matter.
Combat disinformation in broad daylight, rather than ignoring it
Canada does not maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, as China considers the island a rebel province. Ottawa has not recognized Taiwan as an independent state since 1970. When a British parliamentary committee qualified Taiwan as an “independent country” this summer, a source in the Canadian government instead reiterated to Devoir that the policy remained that of “one China”.
Claim, without provoking
Over the last 20 years, Taiwan has lost half of its diplomatic allies. There are only 12 of them left, accompanied by the Vatican.
Taiwan's senior leaders counter that their international support is solidified in other ways, through diplomatic deterrence. The G7 countries have been calling, for three years, for “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”. Their statements also called on China “not to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the region.” American and Canadian military ships sailed last month in the waters of the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island and mainland China. Ottawa has also begun formal negotiations with Taipei with a view to agreeing on an agreement on the promotion and protection of foreign investments.
Taiwan is making significant efforts on the international scene to see itself grant a seat to certain bodies such as the World Health Organization or the International Civil Aviation Organization. Unsuccessful efforts so far.
The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lee Roy Chun, however, refuses to ask more from his symbolic allies. Because Taiwan must maintain a delicate balance between its demands for recognition of sovereignty and the risk of provoking Beijing. “Formal recognition as an independent country is certainly the long-term goal. But it is also the most provocative avenue for China,” recognizes Mr. Lee. “In the absence of official recognition, partnership, cooperation and support will be the preferred practical approach. »
Draw inspiration from the archetype
The deputy minister agreed in September that China's military maneuvers have become more aggressive, moving ever closer to the median line that separates the island from mainland China, or even overstepping it. Taiwanese authorities, however, maintain that war is not inevitable. Ukraine has demonstrated that a smaller country can resist aggression from a more powerful neighbor. And the economic decline experienced in China weakens, in their eyes, the Beijing regime. The facades of buildings in Taipei nevertheless display the underground presence of air raid shelters.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has made the reunification of Taiwan with China his major project, possibly as early as 2027. “I don't believe that China will win the war,” says Deputy Minister Lee with obligatory optimism. “On the condition that the United States, Japan, and other partners come to support and stand alongside Taiwan,” he adds, however.
In Canada, Conservative MP Michael Chong is delighted to see the government accept advice from Taiwan, which he describes as “the epicenter of foreign interference”. “Cooperation is the way forward. We can learn from the best practices of other democracies, such as Taiwan, to counter foreign interference and disinformation,” says Chong, who himself has been a victim of Beijing's intimidation.
His liberal colleague John McKay, who like him studies foreign interference committed in Canada, also believes that Ottawa is doing well to study the example of Beijing's neighbor. “Taiwan is an interesting “laboratory case” to study. There is absolutely no doubt that Canadian authorities can learn a lot from this, because Taipei is at the forefront of efforts against interference. »
The Canadian government has been thinking since the spring about adapting its strategy aimed at countering foreign interference. A register of foreign agents operating on Canadian soil is in the works. Judge Marie-Josée Hogue has just begun her mandate at the head of the public inquiry into the matter — which will look in particular at Chinese interference.
This report was made possible thanks to the financial and logistical support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan. The ministry has no editorial rights over the work of Devoir.