Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

Political Warfare Alert: Is China Using Religious Organizations as Proxies to Funnel Political Donations and Influence in Taiwan?

In an interview with the magazine Mirror Weekly (鏡週刊), the head of the Chinese Unification Promotion Party (CUPP) (also known as the Unionist Party)—a fringe pro-China political party in Taiwan—Chang An-Lo (張安樂 b. 1948) claimed that there are around 30 heads of temples on the island whom are either members of the CUPP or its supporters. The former triad leader mentioned several of these temples by name. They include Tainan City Wenheng Temple (文衡殿), Taichung City Shengwu Temple (聖武宮), Chiayi County Fengtian Temple (奉天宮), and Yunlin County Chaotian Temple (朝天宮). Chang stated how he would often be invited by representatives of these temples to participate in their ceremonies or to help with managing cross-Strait exchange matters. For instance, Yunlin County’s Beigang Chaotian Temple chairman and Guangfu village chief, Wu Tung-ho (吳東合, b. 1957), is reportedly a CUPP member, among others.

Other temples such as the New Taipei City Youxuan Temple (祐玄宮), New Taipei City Guanghe Fude Temple (廣和福德宮), Yunlin Country Beishui Bishui Temple (北壇碧水寺), Tainan City Four Seas Yunhai Temples (四鯤鯓雲海宮), and Yunlin County Taiyu Temple (太子宮) also reportedly had CUPP party members in senior management positions. It should be noted that when asked by local reporters representatives of several of these temple associations assert that the views held by some of its board members are their private views.

In a detailed expose of the CUPP’s network, a Commonwealth Magazine report from 2018 found that CUPP “has more than 100 locations around Taiwan and over 30,000 members, had two people elected to village and town councils and two others elected as ward chiefs in local elections in 2014. In 2016’s national elections, it received over 56,000 votes (about 0.5 percent of the votes cast) in the legislative party vote to determine at-large legislative seats.” The article also observed:

the three main pillars of the Unionist Party are gangs, temples and overseas Taiwanese businesses. No party dues are required and only 50 party members are needed to set up a local party chapter … They are mainly linked together through temple groups around Taiwan. The White Wolf serves as the spiritual leader, and because of his strong network of “red” (Chinese) connections, he is able to bond closely with influential local factions. [emphasis added]

Ongoing law enforcement investigations into whether Chang received financial contributions that were not reported in accordance with the law and suspicion over embezzlement and tax evasion had reportedly uncovered the CUPP’s activities with these temple associations, which appear intended to exploit the lax government regulations over religious activities. Indeed, China and its proxies in Taiwan may be using religious organizations as a conduit through which Chinese money are being funneled into Taiwan and used for political purposes.

In a sense, the revelation by White Wolf of the relationships between pro-unification groups and temples with China are not new. Yet, recent public confirmation by Chang and a senior intelligence official are noteworthy. At The Jamestown Foundation’s 9th annual China Defense and Security Conference in Washington, DC co-sponsored by the Global Taiwan Institute, the deputy director-general of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau—the island’s premier intelligence agency—Lieutenant General Vincent Chen gave the featured remarks on the challenges of CCP influence operations in Taiwan and stated: “There are at least 22 pro-China organizations, political parties, and we have identified a number of them with connection to organized crime for extending their networking to local temples, businessmen, youths.”

As I have also documented in a testimony before the US-China Security and Economic Review Commission on CCP United Front against Taiwan in April 2018: “The groups targeted by CCP United Front [in Taiwan] is now broadly focused on 10 constituencies that include grass-roots villages, youth, students, Chinese spouses, aboriginals, pro-China political parties and groups, religious organizations, distant relatives, fishermen’s associations, and retired generals.” And as the Commonwealth article further noted:

The murky world of temple organizations, as opposed to democratic institutions, serves as the key platform through which the Unionist Party connects all of Taiwan. Because of their huge cash flows and unsupervised finances, temples have always been a pillar of Taiwan’s underground economy. One insider says some Unionist Party members have secured important positions in temple groups, but by and large the party and temples have a cooperative relationship.

In related news, a former candidate who ran for Taipei City Council and member of the Chinese Patriotic Alliance Association (CPAA, 中華愛國同心會) (also known as the Concentric Patriotism Alliance), Zhang Xiuye ​ (張秀葉), was indicted by prosecutors for having received and illegally using funds from China for political purposes. [1] Zhang ran in last November’s local elections on the China Democratic Progressive Party’s (CDPP, 中國民主進步黨) ticket for Wanhua district in Taipei city. She concurrently serves as the secretary-general of both the CPAA and the CDPP. The Chinese Patriotic Alliance currently has about 200 members. The chairperson and chairman of the two organizations is Zhou Qingjun (周慶峻, b. 1943).

Taiwanese prosecutors charged Zhou for failing to obtain from the proper supervisory authority for permission to raise funds from supporters on the “Sponsored Us” page of the Chinese Patriotic Alliance Association’s website. According to prosecutors, Zhang ​​received financial contributions in the amount of NT$ 179,000 (US$ 5,883.85) and RMB 2,000 (US$ 285.30). The prosecution also found out that Zhou and Zhang ​​received political donations from Zhou’s Hubei Tongxin Lianfa Agricultural Comprehensive Development Company (湖北同心聯發農業綜合開發公司) in 2018 located in Hubei province (China) for the amount of NT$ 1.89 million (US$ 62,442.71). Zhang ​​had allegedly registered the funds for the Chinese Patriotic Alliance’s operation but used it for a campaign dinner celebrating the National Day of the People’s Republic of China and for her campaign for the Taipei City Council.

While the aforementioned incident represents a straightforward case of direct funding, which is easier for authorities to monitor and prosecute, the flood of Chinese money in Taiwan’s political space is much harder to stem given its scale and the multiple channels that it can go through. There are many indirect channels of funding, in-kind contributions, and signaling that are much harder to identify, prove intent, and stop. This presents a serious challenge for law enforcement authorities trying to prevent such activities, particularly if it pertains to the activities of these temple associations and other religious organizations. In his Mirror Weekly interview, Chang made it a point that he is not an agent of the CCP because China never authorized him, instead he referred to himself a “fellow traveler of the CCP” (中共同路人) and proclaimed that “China is my god” and “to die [for her] would be fine.”

The main point: White Wolf confirms that there are around 30 heads of temples within Taiwan who are either members of the CUPP or its supporters. Temples are considered a pillar of Taiwan’s underground economy. Because of lax regulations over temple activities and their unsupervised finances, they may serve as a conduit for Chinese money into Taiwan’s politics.

[1] For a detailed profile of the Chinese Patriotic Alliance Association, see, e.g., https://www.taiwangazette.org/news/2018/10/25/they-used-to-be-anti-communist-but-now-they-play-to-beijings-tune.

Taiwan Academic Missing in China as Broader Clamp Down of Foreign Nationals by Chinese Authorities on National Security Grounds

A third person from Taiwan has been reported missing within the past three months in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for ostensibly “national security” reasons. Professor Shi Zhengping (施正屏) of Taiwan had reportedly disappeared in China in August of last year. The recent string of missing persons reports follows recent troubling revelation by the Taiwan government that 149 of its citizens had gone missing in China over the past three years (since May 2016). Of those 149 persons, 67 cases remain unsolved with no information as to the missing people’s whereabouts as signs point to China ramping up arbitrary enforcements of its new national security law. Late last year, Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were accused by China of spying—and more recently, a Japanese professor from Hokkaido University has been detained for allegedly violating the country’s national security law.

The retired professor from National Taiwan Normal University (台灣師範大學) had reportedly “disappeared” after travelling to China in August last year and have been missing now for 14 months. Authorities in Taiwan believe that Shi has been detained in China on grounds of national security although there has been no official confirmation. After retiring in February 2018, Shi went to National Chengchi University to teach and set up a “global debate course” for international research English master students. Before September last year, the school wanted to ask Professor Shi to continue the class but was unable to reach him. The school said that it found out that Shi was missing after reading the news.

According to Taiwan media reports, Shi Zhengping is 56 years old and the chief economist of the Chinese state-owned “Huaxia Group” (華夏集團) and often travels to China. He is also affiliated with the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang). When former president Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party was in power, he served as the representative for agricultural trade in the United States. Later, he worked as a commentator in the pro-China Want Want China Times Media Group and was critical of the Tsai government. Shi’s apparent detention in China is more interesting because he is considered part of the pro-China faction in Taiwanese politics.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council Deputy Minister Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) stated that Beijing authorities have not communicated on the matter with the Taiwan government. If Beijing has indeed restricted Shi’s personal freedom, Beijing should inform Taipei immediately. Also, based on humanitarian considerations, Beijing should allow family members to visit and protect their rights in China. The Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF, 海峽交流基金會)—the semi-official agency in Taiwan in charge of conducting cross-Strait negotiations in the absence of formal ties—also appealed to Beijing.  The SEF stated that if family members have needs, they will respect and cooperate with the will of the family to provide necessary assistance.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Fan Shiping (范世平), a professor of political science who also teaches at National Taiwan Normal University, said that he had heard rumors about Shi’s disappearance last year. Fan added, “(He) is not a DPP [so] this is quite extreme to arrest him like this. Just like the scholar at Hokkaido University in Japan who was recently arrested. I think this will trigger a chilling effect within academic circles—unless you are very pro-CCP and pro-unification. I think [the mainland] is actually quite stupid, and everyone will feel that it is causing a chilling effect.”

In March 2017, Taiwanese NGO worker Lee Ming-che (李明哲, b. 1975) went missing in China and was later sentenced to five years in a Chinese prison for “subverting state power.” In just the past three months, three cases have been publicly disclosed involving Taiwanese persons who have been arrested and detained on the grounds of “national security” in China. In August of this year, Morrison Lee (李孟居), a government consultant in Pingtung County, traveled to Hong Kong and went missing. In September, Tsai Chin-shu (蔡金樹), the chairman of the Southern Taiwan Union of Cross-strait Relations Associations and ardent supporter of cross-Strait exchanges, was reported missing in the China for more than a year and is believed to be detained at a prison in China’s Fujian Province. Now, Shi Zhengping is missing.

Far from being isolated incidents, these cases involving Taiwan nationals who “disappear” in China track with the arbitrary and capricious detention and arrests of nationals from other countries also for supposed national security reasons by Chinese authorities. In the case of Japan, “since 2015, 13 Japanese men and women have been detained on suspicion that they were engaging in spying activities.” In response to the detention of the Hokkaido professor, a group of leading Japanese China scholars issued a public statement stating that the incident has “cast a long shadow on the healthy development of the Japan-China relations,” and urged Chinese authorities to understand “the sense of crisis” in Japan. In particular, “noting growing moves to cancel visits to China and review exchange programs,” the statement highlighted the incident’s negative impact on future academic exchanges between the two countries.

The main point: A third person from Taiwan has been reported missing within the past three months in China for ostensibly “national security” reasons. The most recent string of missing persons reports follows recent troubling revelation by the Taiwan government that 149 of its citizens had gone missing in China over the past three years since May 2016.