While the world focuses on the threat posed by a potential invasion of Taiwan by the Chinese military, pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) elements in Taiwan are increasing their calls for the overthrow of the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) Administration. Although such elements remain in the marginal minority, the groups nevertheless tap into extremist sentiment within the pro-CCP and Deep-Blue camp that could potentially result in isolated acts of violence against government officials.
Two recent incidents involving Chang An-le (張安樂), the founder of the China Unification Promotion Party (CUPP, 中華統一促進黨), and Kao An-kuo (高安國), a retired Republic of China (ROC) Army general, raise the specter of efforts by sub-state actors—possibly acting in conjunction with, or at the direction of, the CCP—to destabilize state institutions.
Calls for Uprisings and Military Mutiny
During a July 15-16 forum in Shanghai titled “Chinese Compatriots Across the Strait, Joining Hands to Realize the Chinese Dream” (攜手圓夢：兩岸同胞交流研討活動), the CUPP’s Chang said “I have made the proclamation in Taiwan that China must annex Taiwan.” Chang spoke of the need to “make friends” and network with retired and active military personnel within Taiwan. “I have called on them to surrender […] on the day that China starts its military invasion of Taiwan. We will launch a revolt, an armed insurrection against the government here. […] The youth groups at many temples in Taiwan with which we have been networking will join us when this day comes.”
This was not the first time that Chang referred to recruiting youth—one of the key targets for recruitment by the CCP—from temples across Taiwan. In an interview with Central People’s Broadcasting Station (中央人民廣播電台) in February 2021, Chang stated that one of his priorities was to enlist young people from central and southern parts of Taiwan and “turn them from green” (that is, supporters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and/or Taiwan independence) “to red,” or pro-CCP. Such recruits, he added, would then assist the CCP in promoting “reunification” and sparking “an uprising.” In the same interview, Chang added that he was willing to die a martyr for the cause of “reunification.”
During the July event in Shanghai, Chang also advocated for the creation of a propaganda team, with influencers and a manifesto in Taiwan to promote “reunification with the motherland” (促進祖國統一的宣傳隊、播種機、宣言書). Arguing that this was how the CCP won the Chinese Civil War, Chang said that the team would “spread seeds for growth and propagate our political ideology.”
The forum was organized by the Cross-Strait Relations Research Center (海峽兩岸關係研究中心) under the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO, 國務院臺灣事務辦公室). Approximately 100 people, including Taiwanese academics, youth representatives, and political party delegates, reportedly took part in the event.
Meanwhile, in videos posted on Chinese social media and a YouTube channel, Kao An-kuo, a former deputy commander of the Taoyuan-based Sixth Army Command (第六軍團指揮部), called on the commanding officers of the Taiwanese military to “stand up for Chinese nationalism” and “overthrow the DPP and the Taiwan traitor group” in order to “achieve the sacred mission of unification of the Chinese race.” In the same video, the 77-year-old Kao says the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) should “feel ashamed of itself” and laments the “languishing party’s” unwillingness to “join forces for the third time with the CCP to realize the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
During the 2014 China Cross-Strait Military Generals Forum (2014中國海峽兩岸將軍論壇) in Xiamen, Fujian Province, Kao had made a similar call for the Taiwanese military to refrain from taking action if China launched an attack against Taiwan. An estimated 30 retired generals from the Taiwanese side are said to have participated in that forum. (Since 2016, the Taiwanese government has implemented stricter rules on travel to China and participation in political events there by retired military personnel.)
Besides calling for what amounts to mutiny, in another video Kao launches a tirade against Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), whom he compares to a “failed general” on the battlefield. “The people’s resentment in Taiwan is boiling,” Kao says, “and the air is filled with the smell of gunpowder, which will ignite the long-lasting anger in Taiwan.” Using a historical reference to the Three Kingdoms Era, Kao argues that the top commander of the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC, 國家衛生指揮中心中央流行疫情指揮中心) should be “beheaded.”
The rhetoric used by both Chang and Kao operates on two levels. First, it seeks to exacerbate alleged discontent with the Tsai Administration over its “betrayal” of the “Chinese race” and its supposed mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak, the latter in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Second, it signals the intent to create an alliance of non-state actors whose purported aim represents a direct threat to state stability and the safety of government officials. Both Chang, a former head of the violent Bamboo Union (竹聯幫) triad, and Kao, who joined the CUPP and the Blue Sky Alliance (藍天行動聯盟) in sometimes violent protests against legislators and officials over the Tsai Administration’s pension reform plans in 2017-2018, have a demonstrated commitment to using violence to achieve their goals (during the 2017 protests, Kao called on protesters to surround the Presidential Office and “topple the government in one go”). The following year, Kao announced the creation of a “Republic of China Taiwan Military Government” (中華民國台灣軍政府), declaring “war” on the Tsai Administration as well as the pro-independence Taiwan Civil Government (台灣民政府). Kao claimed his organization comprises seven units around Taiwan, namely the Taipei Military Region, Taichung Military Region, Tainan Military Region, Taitung Military Region, Penghu Military Region, Kinmen Military Region, and Matsu Military Region. (The pro-CCP outlet China Review News also reported on this here, although this article refers to only four alleged military regions.)
Such groups may also seek to exploit controversies such as the recent allegations of espionage against former Deputy Minister of National Defense Chang Che-ping (張哲平) to force a wedge or cause mistrust between the Tsai government and the armed forces.
Chang’s CUPP has long had a symbiotic relationship with the Bamboo Union, which—among other areas of activity—is deeply involved in arms trafficking. Such access to firearms greatly enhances the ability of pro-CCP organizations to launch attacks against officials and critics of the CCP regime, and potentially inflict serious damage on state institutions. Violence of this type could be self-initiated or enacted at the behest of Chinese officials—with the additional advantage for Beijing of plausible deniability. For his part, Kao is tapping into a more conservative segment of the armed forces, particularly groups with whom he established contact during the 2017 protests over pension reform, which fueled discontent among retired military personnel who saw a reduction in their pensions.
The singling out of officials like Chen Shih-chung—to which we can add the TAO’s direct threat of punitive action against “hardcore separatists” such as Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) and, more recently, Legislative Speaker You Si-kun ((游錫堃)—also constitutes incitement that could compel disgruntled Chinese or Taiwanese ultranationalist lone wolves to take matters into their own hands.
Activities such as those that Chang and Kao are involved in represent a threat to the state, and should therefore be countered with commensurate measures. On the legal front, the National Security Act (國家安全法), the Anti-Infiltration Act (反滲透法), and the Organized Crime Prevention Act (組織犯罪防制條例) all contain provisions that can facilitate prosecution. Advocating for unification technically falls under free speech, and therefore is unlikely to lead to prosecution. However, calls for mutiny, for the overthrow of the government, or for the armed forces to refuse direct orders from their commander-in-chief—as well as advocating violence against the state and officials—do not constitute freedom of speech but rather treason. When such a line is crossed, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ, 法務部) can—and must—act upon such regulations, regardless of whether perpetrators like Chang recognize the legitimacy of the ROC legal system (he doesn’t). Under such laws, Chang could face a minimum of seven years imprisonment for sedition and related charges. For far too long the MOJ has tiptoed around the issue of prosecution against such individuals and organizations; one wonders how much more explicit they need to make their threats against the state before prosecutors finally take action.
Besides legal means, it is essential that the state apparatus strengthen protective measures for government officials, legislators, and members of society who stand to be targeted by the CCP or its proxies in Taiwan. One of democratic Taiwan’s many virtues is the openness of its society and institutions. However, the hostile intentions of Taiwan’s authoritarian neighbor cannot be ignored, and remedial measures must be taken to diminish the likelihood that China’s “gray zone” operations, such as those discussed above, can exploit that openness to cause great harm to Taiwanese society. Officials like Chen, Wu, and You who have been singled out by the Chinese state apparatus or its proxies in Taiwan must receive extra physical protection against the possibility of an orchestrated attack or one by a lone wolf. Where necessary, security should also be augmented at the ministries where such attacks are likely, including the addition of metal detectors at points of entry. The idea is not to turn the state into a fortress, but rather to address the overly lax security that tends to characterize access to government buildings across Taiwan. Whether we like it or not, Taiwan is in a state of quasi-war with its neighbor; ignoring the threat will not make it disappear.
The CCP and its proxies in Taiwan have the capability for violence, and have signaled their willingness to use violence against officials and state institutions. Taipei cannot afford to wait until the Chinese side finally acts upon those threats to finally implement the appropriate protective measures, and to put behind bars those who have clearly telegraphed their hostile intentions.
The main point: Chinese “gray zone” operations drawing on proxies in Taiwan are intensifying, with calls by a former gangster and a retired general for the violent overthrow of the sitting government and attacks on government officials. The state has various instruments at its disposal to mitigate the threat, including legal means as well as upgraded security measures. Both must be utilized before it’s too late.