Beijing’s long-threatened invasion of Taiwan is well underway, but its shock troops are not the foot-soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army. They are the shadowy agents of the United Front Work Department (UFWD), Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “magic weapon,” who over the past decade have infiltrated Taiwanese society and institutions.
Since 2015 Xi has doubled the budget and responsibilities of the United Front, which aims to rally support for Chinese Communist Party objectives at home and abroad, often by creating groups and organizations that have no obvious affiliations with the party.
In Taiwan there is evidence that United Front operations distorted the results of last November’s municipal elections using the weaknesses that characterize any open democratic system.
Social media was used to spread blatantly false stories. Campaign funds were given to candidates favored by Beijing. And the leaders of villages and small municipalities were suborned into campaigning on behalf of candidates the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wanted to win.
In the run-up to the November elections Taiwan’s National Police Agency said it had received 64 reports of purposefully fabricated false information circulating on social media.
A representative example was a story that the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen had contributed the equivalent of millions of dollars to the Hong Kong activists protesting for political reform, but had spent nothing on the eradication of dengue fever in Taiwan. The story was utterly false.