A Preliminary Assessment of CCP Political Warfare Targeting Taiwan’s 2024 Elections

A Preliminary Assessment of CCP Political Warfare Targeting Taiwan’s 2024 Elections

CCP on Wall Masthead
A Preliminary Assessment of CCP Political Warfare Targeting Taiwan’s 2024 Elections

While the international community is fixed on the nightmare scenario that could occur in the Taiwan Strait—a full-scale invasion of Taiwan by the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—a persistent and insidious campaign has been unfolding to influence and interfere with Taiwan’s democratic political processes. Indeed, Beijing has been engaged in a campaign of political warfare—means to expand Chinese influence and power below the threshold of armed conflict—directed at influencing, both overtly and covertly, and interfering with Taiwan’s upcoming elections. [1]

While the PRC’s has engaged in this pressure campaign against Taiwan for decades, its efforts have grown increasingly aggressive since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). These activities have noticeably ramped up in the lead-up to Taiwan’s eighth presidential and legislative elections, set to take place on January 13. As Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) has clearly warned in a piece for The Economist published just 10 days before the elections: “[T]he PRC has been making unprecedented efforts to meddle in the democratic process in Taiwan.” [2]

Election Interference and Beijing’s Longstanding Political Warfare Campaign

According to a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) study published in August 2023, Chinese political warfare covers six broad areas: (1) intelligence operations; (2) cyber operations; (3) information and disinformation operations; (4) United Front work; (5) irregular military actions; and (6) economic coercion. The study, entitled Competing without Fighting: China’s Strategy of Political Warfare, did not examine the case of Taiwan, but the tactics and techniques analyzed by the researchers were notably deployed and honed with Taiwan in mind. It is no exaggeration to describe Taiwan as standing on the frontline of China’s authoritarian “sharp power” operations. As such, Taiwan’s 2024 elections will likely serve as a test bed for Chinese Communist Party (CCP, 中國共產黨) influence and interference operations, making them a critical case study for other democracies to closely examine and share.

In short, this preliminary analysis provides a survey of observable instances of PRC political warfare activities aimed at influencing and interfering in Taiwan’s 2024 elections, which include a mix of both overt and covert instruments. Based on an analysis of open-source materials and disclosures, there are several key tools that Beijing has employed thus far: (1) fake online opinion polls; (2) United Front operations targeting village chiefs; (3) use of artificial intelligence (AI) for online propaganda and disinformation; (4) economic enticements and coercion; and (5) intensified gray zone tactics. 

To be sure, analysts who may have focused only on the last few months of the 2024 elections to identify election influence and interference are likely to have missed the forest for the trees. While PRC election interference in Taiwan’s elections has been persistent and commonplace since 1996 (when Taiwan held its first direct presidential election), CCP United Front operations go back much further. Though, indeed, such activities often intensify in the lead-up to elections, they have long been a ubiquitous feature of cross-Strait dynamics, shaping many of the economic, societal, and political interactions between the PRC and Taiwan.

As Chinese aggression has risen since the beginning of Xi Jinping’s (習近平) reign in 2012, concerns over PRC political warfare against Taiwan and its interference in the island democracy’s elections have reached new heights in recent years. Indeed, the issue has even been discussed at the highest levels of diplomacy, when US President Joseph Biden reportedly raised it in November 2023 during his summit with Xi in San Francisco. Yet, despite President Biden’s caution to Xi to refrain from interfering in Taiwan’s upcoming elections, Beijing has clearly not heeded the US warning. In fact, Xi’s top official for United Front work, Wang Huning (王滬寧), reportedly convened a meeting in late 2023 to ramp up these efforts—while attempting to deliberately mask the PRC’s interference in Taiwan’s democratic processes.

According to the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau’s (MJIB, 法務部調查局) report to the Legislative Yuan in November, Taiwan has been targeted by three major forms of election interference by foreign forces, including: “overseas financial investment interference” (境外資金介選), “online election betting” (網路選舉賭盤), and “spreading false information to interfere (cognitive operations)” (散布假訊息干擾[認知作戰]). Despite the persistent nature of CCP political warfare, there are still some notable features of this year’s election interference efforts (see table below) that are worthy of highlighting for further study.

To illustrate this point, what follows is a table of the various components of CCP political warfare and some of the major incidents and brief descriptions observed in this election cycle:

Political Warfare Components

Specific Examples and Descriptions






Info/Disinformation Operations


  • At least two known cases of the PRC recruiting Taiwanese citizens (Hsu Shao-tung [徐少東], Lin Hsien-yuan [林獻元], Su Yuan-hwa [蘇雲華] et al.) to fabricate and disseminate fake online opinion polls on the presidential elections to misled voters
  • The use of illegal online election gambling sites to incentivize people to vote for certain candidates for potential monetary gain   
  • Information campaign to disseminate “American Skepticism” narrative in Taiwan’s political discourse. [3]
  • The use of artificial intelligence (AI) for online propaganda and disinformation, including the manipulation of online content of statements by political candidates
  • Partisan attacks on Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) after the failure of Blue-White unity ticket, as well attempts to undermine Taiwanese support for Japanese earthquake victims



  • Chinese officially charges activist Yang Chih-yuan (楊智淵)
  • Taiwanese arrests of an attempted military defector and other suspected agents




United Front


  • United Front operations targeting village chiefs and grassroots organizations, in which voters are brought to China and rallied to vote for certain political parties and candidates (e.g., the Union of Chinese Nationalists, 中華泛藍協會; new immigrant associations)
  • CCP infiltration of Taiwanese politics via proxies like the Chinese Unification Promotion Party (CUPP, 中華統一促進黨) through illegal financing schemes that are used to support the candidacy of certain politicians [4]
  • Pressuring Taiwanese businesses to refrain from supporting Taiwan government initiatives to reinvest in Taiwan


Military Gray Zone Tactics


  • Chinese tugboats reportedly operating within four nautical miles of Taiwan’s coastline
  • Persistent military flights within Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) and crossings of the median line of the Taiwan Strait
  • Weather/surveillance balloons flying over Taiwan


Economic Enticements and Coercion


  • Proposal of Cross-Strait Integrated Development Demonstration Zone (兩岸融合發展示範區) and associated two tranches of preferential measures for businesses and people from Taiwan to promote economic integration
  • Sidelining Terry Gou’s (郭台銘) presidential bid through the use of a deliberately timed tax audit
  • The PRC’s determination that alleged trade barriers are determined to constitute a restrictive trade barrier, which led it to suspend tariff relief on imports of 12 Taiwanese petrochemical products

Foreign Minister Wu put an even finer point on this warning in his piece for The Economist, stating that:

The most flagrant, and yet not at all surprising, abuses are conducted by PRC surrogates in Taiwan who set up fake organizations and fake news websites, conduct fake polls and use thousands of fake social-media accounts to manipulate public debate and opinion. The PRC has invited Taiwanese grassroots elected officials on tours of China that include indoctrination on who to support in the elections. Taking advantage of Taiwan’s openness, China has flooded Taiwan with disinformation and stepped up its cyber-warfare activities to try to dupe the Taiwanese people into accepting its narrative. Its plan is to win over a critical minority of swing voters. In a tight race like this one, and with the concerted effort the PRC is making, it might just get its way. (Emphasis added)

Key Feature: Economic Coercion

While many of these influence and interference activities have not varied dramatically from Beijing’s past practices, the most notable feature of PRC interference in this election cycle—and what could be expected to intensify in the years to come—is the use of economic coercion against Taiwan.

Indeed, the 2024 elections demonstrated a textbook case of how the PRC utilizes both economic enticements and coercive measures in a two-pronged approach to influence Taiwan’s electorate. On December 15—just a little less than a month away from the elections—the PRC’s Ministry of Commerce (MoC, 中華人民共和國商務部) announced the results of its trade barrier investigation into some 2,455 Taiwanese products, which it launched in April 2023.

The findings of the investigation were as expected—and, in all likelihood, predetermined. According to Beijing, Taiwan’s trade barriers violated the rules of both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA, 海峽兩岸經濟合作架構協議), a trade deal struck in 2010 between Taiwan and China. On December 21, only a few days later after the announcement of the determination, the Chinese government further announced that it would suspend tariff relief on imports of 12 Taiwanese petrochemical products beginning on January 1, 2024. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA, 經濟部): “[A]round USD $1.8 billion of the 12 products affected by the policy were exported to China from January through November this year [2023], accounting for 1.3 percent of Taiwan’s total exports to China.” While it remains unclear what further specific actions the PRC will take, the aforementioned measures are likely only the beginning.

At the same time that Beijing was wielding the stick, the PRC was also preparing to hand out more carrots. In September, it announced a set of measures directed at Fujian province designed to create a demonstration zone for integrated development (兩岸融合發展示範區), followed soon after by the announcement of two tranches of measures intended to entice more businesses and people into Fujian.

The decision to announce the result of the investigation concurrently with the measures for the integrated development demonstration zone in Fujian province follows the PRC’s long-established pattern of employing a mix of economic enticements and punishments to influence Taiwan’s politics and elections. The measures taken by the PRC in this election, including announcing that it was auditing Foxconn (富士康) after Terry Gou announced that he was running for president, are both more subtle and tougher. These characteristics could potentially make these efforts more effective than previous tactics, as they could make Chinese economic leverage and coercion a semi-permanent fixture in Taiwanese electoral politics in the years to come.


PRC influence and interference in Taiwan’s democracy are matters of importance, not only for Taiwan, but for the United States as well. [5] For Americans and citizens of other democratic nations, understanding what happens in Taiwan is vital, as it helps inform our own experience with foreign interference in elections. Indeed, Taiwan is the canary in the coalmine for CCP political warfare. As was highlighted in the recently declassified report Intelligence Community Assessment of Foreign Threats to the 2022 US Elections, published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence: “Since 2020, PRC senior leaders have issued broad directives to intensify efforts to influence US policy and public opinion in China’s favor.” As the intelligence assessment made clear, “During the 2022 US elections, China intensified efforts to heighten sociopolitical divisions […] it focused more on efforts to support or undermine a small number of specific candidates based on their policy positions.” Furthermore, it noted “China’s greater willingness to conduct election influence activities than in past cycles.”

A comparison of methods used by Beijing to interfere in Taiwan’s past elections reveals that while most of the measures that the CCP employed in the past are still being used, they have become more sophisticated with technological advancements. However, so have the responses of the Taiwanese government and civil society organizations. [6] Yet as Taiwan’s top national security official, Wellington Koo (顧立雄), the secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC, 國家安全會議), warned: “[The CCP’s] overhead costs are, indeed, very low. But we must sufficiently defend against the proliferation of controversial information and endow our people with a sufficient, genuine ability to discern true from false, so our costs will conversely be quite high.” Ultimately, whether the CCP’s political warfare operations succeed will not be determined by one election, but by how long Taiwan’s leaders and population can withstand this persistent and intensifying campaign.

The main point: Once again, the PRC has significantly intensified its political warfare operations in the lead-up to Taiwan’s 2024 national elections. While these efforts have been largely consistent with previous campaigns, their increased subtlety and sophistication could pose substantial challenges for Taiwan.

 [1] This assessment adopts the definitions of “election interference,” “election influence,” and “foreign malign influence” as provided in the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) report Foreign Threats to the 2022 Elections (declassified December 11, 2023). https://www.dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/assessments/NIC-Declassified-ICA-Foreign-Threats-to-the-2022-US-Elections-Dec2023.pdf

[2] With polls just a week before the election showing a tight race, it may ultimately come down to the undecided voters—who still represent around 2 to 15 percent of the voting public according to various polls—and the 40 percent or so self-identified independents, who will form the decisive bloc of votes in these consequential elections.

[3] “Whether these narratives may originate in Taiwan, or whether they are generated by the state propaganda architecture of the PRC, they are heavily promoted and amplified by the latter system.” See, e.g., https://globaltaiwan.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/OR_ASTAW0807FINAL.pdf.

[4] The reported agents/handlers in this case reportedly worked in the PRC Guangdong Province Meizhou City People’s Government (中國廣東省梅州市人民政府等單位), as well as the Guangdong Province Maoming City Party Committee’s United Front Work Department (廣東省茂名市委會統戰部).

[5] As a matter of Taiwan policy, the Taiwan Relations Act (1979) states unequivocally, “It is the policy of the United States […] to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means […] a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of gave concern to the United States.”

[6] The MJIB management and organizational enhancement should be a permanent fixture. It sets a good example about how counter-intelligence and law enforcement units need to be beefed up to address the type of election interference from the PRC. https://udn.com/news/story/6656/7563976.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the 2024 election as Taiwan’s seventh direct presidential election.