June 13: Swinging the Vote: How the CCP influences the Media and Elections in Taiwan and Beyond

June 13: Swinging the Vote: How the CCP influences the Media and Elections in Taiwan and Beyond

Thursday, June 13, 2019 from 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM

The full-length recording of the event:

Event Description

Doors will open at 1:30 pm. The event will begin at 2:00 pm. Kindly RSVP by June 11. Please, direct your questions or concerns to Program Manager Marzia Borsoi-Kelly at rsvp@globaltaiwan.org.

At an early May conference in Beijing, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Yang stated that media outlets in Taiwan should give more coverage to the “one country, two systems” framework for cross-Strait unification touted by Chinese leader Xi Jinping. In response, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, strongly condemned China’s interference in Taiwan’s internal affairs and the freedom of its press. The media summit in Beijing was organized by the Beijing Daily Group, and co-hosted by Taiwan-based media company Want Want China Times Media Group, as well as involving other Taiwanese media companies. These activities raise questions about how China’s influence over media, freedom, democracy, and elections all connect to one another. GTI Senior Non-Resident Fellow J. Michael Cole will address these questions in the company of a collection of media experts to include Natalie Liu from Voice of America, former PBS Newshour Producer Mike Mosettig, and Nadia Tsao from Radio Free Asia. The event will be moderated by GTI Senior Research Fellow David An. Together they will wrestle with these concepts and clarify the connections, as China’s influence operations are relevant not only to Taiwan, but also the United States and beyond.

**Media: Please contact Program Manager Marzia Borsoi-Kelly at rsvp@globaltaiwan.org if you would like to bring additional crew members or equipment, so that we can be sure to accommodate you.


J. Michael Cole is a Taipei-based policy analyst. He is a senior non-resident fellow with GTI; senior non-resident fellow with the Taiwan Studies Programme at the University of Nottingham, UK; senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Canada; research associate with the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China; chief editor of Taiwan Sentinel; and assistant coordinator for the Forum 2000’s China working group. From 2014-2016, he was an employee of the Thinking Taiwan Foundation, a think tank founded by Tsai Ing-wen, where he was chief editor. He was deputy news chief and a columnist/reporter at the Taipei Times from 2006-2013. Prior to relocating to Taiwan in 2005, he was an intelligence officer with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in Ottawa. He has a Master’s degree in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, South China Morning Post, Christian Science Monitor, Globe and Mail, Lowy Interpreter, National Interest, China Brief, the Age, Jane’s Defence Weekly, CNN, Brookings Taiwan-US Quarterly, and others. He is a regular commentator on Al Jazeera, BBC News, CNN, and others, and is a consultant for various governments and the defense industry. He is the author of five books about Taiwan. The latest, Convergence or Conflict in the Taiwan Strait, was published by Routledge in late 2016.

Natalie Liu’s journalism career has included working as Beijing Bureau Producer for CBS News and as a foreign affairs reporter for The Washington Times. She currently works as a staff reporter for Voice of America and was awarded First Place in Multimedia/Online Journalism by the Chesapeake Associated Press (AP) Broadcasters Association in June 2018 for her profile of legendary Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky. Her datelines include Washington, Beijing, Taipei, London, Havana, and Guantanamo. While on assignment for CBS News in Beijing, Ms. Liu was jailed by Chinese authorities. Ms. Liu holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service (MSFS).

Michael D. Mosettig was senior producer for foreign affairs & defense at the PBS NewsHour, from 1985 to 2012. He is now an adjunct lecturer in media and international affairs at SAIS, makes frequent overseas reporting trips, as well as follows policymaking in Washington think tanks. His reports appear on the Online PBS NewsHour and other publications.

Nadia Yu-fen Tsao is the director of Mandarin Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA). Before joined RFA in 2018, Nadia had been Washington bureau chief for Liberty Times and Taipei Times, Taiwan since 1998. The highlights of Nadia’s coverage in Washington including an exclusive story in 2016 about the historical phone call between President Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. She also broke an exclusive story in 2014 when Chinese jet fighter Su-27 locked in on Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian’s airplane in the Taiwan Strait. Thanks to her expertise in the complex relations among US, China, and Taiwan, Nadia provides her readers with in-depth analysis. Nadia got her MA in 2006 from the George Washington University as a recipient of a Freeman Fellowship. From 1990-1996, Nadia worked for China Times, Taiwan. From 1986-1990, Nadia was the political reporter for Global Views Magazine, Taiwan. Nadia was selected as a visiting fellow by the American Institute in Taiwan in 1998 and a visiting fellow by the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei in 1995. She got her BA from Tunghai University, Taiwan.


David An is the senior research fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute, where he speaks and publishes his writings on diplomacy, security, and economics in the East Asia region. He was previously a political-military affairs officer covering the East Asia region at the US State Department, where his responsibilities involved coordinating bilateral diplomatic dialogues, arms sales decision making, and working closely with the Department of Defense. At the State Department, he initiated the first Taiwan inter-agency political-military visit to the US comprised of generals and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, which have continued to occur annually. Mr. An received his first State Department Superior Honor Award for this series of political-military visits, and also for taking the lead on congressional notification of $6.4 billion dollars in US arms sales—of Black Hawk helicopters and Patriot missiles—to Taiwan in 2010. Prior to joining the State Department, Mr. An was a US Fulbright Scholar traveling and researching democracy in Taiwan and village elections in China. He received his MA from UCSD Graduate School of Global Policy and Strategy and his BA from UC Berkeley.

Event Summary

A public seminar on June 13 brought forth an in-depth discussion about the ways in which China’s Communist Party (CCP) has employed media as a political tool to realize its goals in Taiwan, the United States, and across the globe. As Taiwan’s 2020 presidential elections draw closer, China’s attempts to sway public opinion becomes increasingly controversial. GTI’s panelists offered their thoughts and recommendations regarding this issue. 

Taipei-based journalist and GTI senior non-resident fellow, J. Michael Cole, describes the current situation as “a very immediate and pressing issue.” He identifies the six major goals of the CCP in Taiwan as the following: (1) to manipulate, corral, and bypass, the public trust; (2) to weaken Taiwanese resistance and any separatist movement; (3) to confuse Taiwanese people, politicians, and media about who/what sources are credible; (4) to corrupt civil society, media, and politicians; (5) to coerce opponents into submitting to the will of the CCP and its agenda; and (6) to exacerbate Taiwanese feelings of abandonment and isolation. 

J. Michael Cole pointed out that certain Taiwanese news outlets are dependent on PRC’s advertisement revenue, and because of this China is engaging in a “weaponization of advertisement revenue” which  offers China leverage in directing the editorial practices of what should be a free media. China Times, for example, censors the Tiananmen Massacre, largely ignores issues concerning Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and dedicates significant coverage to KMT politicians like Han Kuo-yu. Even though few Taiwanese trust or pay attention to China Times, the CCP is able to keep it circulating by heavily investing in its production. On a more clandestine level, China uses seemingly-Taiwanese Facebook pages to share disinformation (i.e false information that is disseminated with the intent of misleading its audience). As a democracy, Taiwan promotes freedom of the press and the media, hence it is difficult to regulate such activity. Whereas countries like the US have forced these Chinese-backed agencies to register as foreign agents, such labels are more controversial and divisive in Taiwan. 

Reporter Michael Mosettig discussed the Communist party’s operations from a global framework. Inspired by Russia’s influence in America’s 2016 elections, China has taken to tampering with Taiwan’s democratic processes. The November 2018 Taiwanese local elections were a trial run for CCP’s influence and interference in the more significant presidential elections that will take place in January, 2020. 

Mosettig reminded the audience that the “one country, two systems” policy currently employed in Hong Kong was originally designed for Taiwan. In light of the recent events in Hong Kong, now more than ever before, Taiwan doubts the possibility of such a system’s ability to preserve its freedom and democracy. At the same time, Mosettig adamantly opposes the use of the word “independence” when talking about Taiwan, as such a hypothetical implies inevitable war. He concluded his remarks by articulating a challenge democracies like Taiwan and the US must overcome: learn to regulate the powerful, unchecked force that is the internet while continuing to promote freedom of speech, the press, and the media. 

Journalism veteran Nadia Yu-fen Tsao also honed in on the significant role cyberspace has claimed in today’s interconnected world. The CCP uses stringent censorship to “protect” mainland China, while using the internet to attack the democracy that lives outside the country’s firewalls. In addition to the internet, Confucian Institutes provide an arm for the CCP to monitor foreign activity while keeping tabs on Chinese nationals abroad. Contrastingly, a lack of journalists on the ground in mainland China makes reporting of events within the PRC very difficult, as it makes it hard to find enough reliable sources to confirm the stories reported. The fruits of the laborious work it takes to report on China, however, are more than worthwhile. Thorough investigation and cautious networking allowed the mother of a son who died in the Tiananmen Massacre to connect with a man who confirmed his death. Such closure is not possible when a state denies and censors historical events that it deems unfavorable. 

Natalie Liu describes this pursuit of truth and the obligation to share that truth with the broader society as the most fundamental element of journalism. She shared a personal story in which while in China she was taken in a van, blindfolded, and later questioned about her involvement in an interview with proclaimed enemies of the Chinese State. Liu maintains that whether a story reflects positively or negatively on the CCP should not matter to a true journalist, but the problem is that journalists’ quest for the truth is interpreted by China as “if you are not on the side of China, then you are against it.” In addition to the truth, Liu implores people to consider the intentions behind a journalist when he or she asks a question. How and why someone answers a question is no less important than how or why another person asks that question in the first place.  

The panelists concluded by saying that looking forward, the United States, Taiwan, and like-minded democracies must ready themselves to actively counter the ill will of foreign entities that seek to undermine the validity of trusted, democratic institutions. However fragile the system may be, it must be defended. In order for democracy to grow, the fundamental right to freely and openly voice one’s thoughts must persist.  

Written by Michael Mullaney, GTI 2019 Summer Intern.