Taiwan

Resilient
Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts
Very High
55 85
Local Resilience & Response
Very High
74 85
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least influence) to 85 (most influence)

header1 Key findings

Report by: Angeli Datt and Jaw-Nian Huang

 

  • Increased influence efforts and new tactics: The Chinese Communist Party exerts considerable influence in Taiwanese media, and it stepped up its efforts during the coverage period of 2019–21. While Chinese state news outlets and Chinese diplomats lack a physical presence in Taiwan, the Chinese Communist Party has experimented with new media tactics and strategies intended to sow local divisions, harm Taiwan’s foreign relations, and destabilize its government.
  • Heightened public opposition toward Chinese Communist Party propaganda: The Taiwanese public is highly skeptical of Chinese state media, and polls showed that Taiwanese opposition to the Chinese government’s “one country, two systems” formula for unification rose throughout the coverage period, reaching a high of nearly 90 percent in late 2021. The outbreak of war in Ukraine in 2022 further pushed public opinion away from China amidst the specter of a Chinese Communist Party invasion of Taiwan. Nearly three out of four Taiwanese people believe that news media should be regulated to address Chinese Communist Party propaganda, according to a 2021 poll.
  • Covert partnerships with local media: Chinese state-produced content is regularly placed in local media through illegal but widespread paid advertorials, coproduction deals, or content-sharing agreements. Such content is not clearly labeled as the product of Chinese state entities, and it may look like an independently written or produced news article, broadcast program, or other media material.
  • Subsidized press trips, online influencers: Taiwanese journalists were routinely invited to participate in junkets, summits, or other paid trips to China with the aim of generating friendly news content before the pandemic stalled international travel. In 2019, the Cross-Strait Media Beijing Summit, hosted by Beijing Daily News Group and Want Want China Times Media Group, was attended by 85 Taiwanese media professionals, including owners, editors, and journalists. Taiwanese private companies and online influencers are also given subsidies or training by Beijing to shape content in Taiwan.
  • Business ties drive self-censorship: Local media—especially outlets that are part of the Want Want China Times Media Group, owned by pro-Beijing Taiwanese businessman Tsai Eng-meng—produce Beijing-friendly content and suppress stories about human rights or other issues that disfavor the Chinese government. Chinese authorities or pro-Beijing netizens have coerced Taiwanese celebrities and corporations into self-censoring or taking sides on Taiwan’s status by warning that they could face financial penalties or lose Chinese market share, advertising revenue, or contracts.
  • Intensified disinformation campaigns: Disinformation campaigns have been one of the most prominent tactics for the Chinese Communist Party to try and influence Taiwanese media discourse, especially during this report’s coverage period. Dozens of campaigns mounted by Beijing-linked actors are detected monthly, with a significant focus on discrediting Taiwan’s democratically elected government during the COVID-19 pandemic. False content is often directly published by Chinese state entities on social media platforms—such as Facebook, Twitter, Line, or YouTube—and then republished in local Taiwanese news outlets, or increasingly by alternative news sources like social media influencers.
  • Defamation suits and cyberattacks: Pro-Beijing actors like the Want Want China Times Media Group have used defamation lawsuits to target journalists and commentators who expose Beijing’s influence in Taiwanese media. One lawsuit by the group’s chairman in 2019 sought to punish a Financial Times correspondent and other media outlets for reporting that exposed the direct meddling of Chinese officials in Taiwanese editorial coverage. The Chinese government also engages in direct and indirect forms of censorship, including blocking the websites of Taiwanese outlets that carry critical content and launching cyberattacks against such outlets.
  • Daily resistance within media outlets: Many Taiwanese journalists have responded to self-censorship pressure inside their media outlets by adopting creative strategies of “internal” and “everyday resistance,” which can include complaining to the company or supervisors, disobeying instructions to remove or rewrite content, or deliberate inaction on orders to remove content.
  • Flexible funding models: Taiwanese outlets have used new funding strategies to address the financial pressures on the media sector, including nonprofit structures with grant-based funding, a social-enterprise model with responsible shareholders, or a mixture of public grants and commercial funding.
  • Diverse civil society responses: Taiwanese civil society has developed creative and positive responses to Beijing’s influence that could strengthen Taiwan’s democratic resilience, including initiatives to monitor Chinese-funded activities in Taiwan, support press freedom, track disinformation, and counter fake news with fact-checking. The 2019 Anti-Red Media Movement, which protested against Chinese infiltration of Taiwanese media and the participation of Taiwanese outlets in cross-strait media summits, mobilized 50,000 protesters and crowdfunded a campaign for legislation.
  • Media literacy efforts: Civil society groups have also led the way in holding media and digital literacy workshops that teach residents of all ages how to recognize fake news, resist information manipulation online and particularly on social media, and use fact-checking platforms. The Ministry of Education has added media and online literacy programs to Taiwan’s school curriculum.
  • Government response through policy and legislation: Taiwan’s political leadership has elevated the issue of covert Chinese Communist Party influence to the highest levels of government, and it has begun proposing or enacting laws to address it, including on interference in elections and foreign agent and investment transparency measures. This approach is not universally supported in the country, and the new laws have received pushback and criticism from the main opposition party, though there remains cross-party support for Taiwan’s democratic system. The government has responded to Chinese state-linked disinformation campaigns with new initiatives that require all government agencies to correct false narratives clearly and simply on social media within a set period of time.
  • Tech company response: International social media companies have responded vigorously to Chinese state-linked disinformation targeting Taiwan, for instance by taking down networks of inauthentic accounts, establishing a dedicated Elections Operation Center to counter disinformation during the 2020 presidential election, and sharing information about their work in Taiwan. However there remains concerns that platforms resist measures to enhance transparency and increased regulation, leaving the sector vulnerable to manipulation from Beijing.
  • Gaps and vulnerabilities: One of Taiwan’s biggest vulnerabilities is that the private sector remains highly vulnerable to pressure from the Chinese government due to its economic activities in China. There also continue to be gaps in the regulatory framework, with the Foreign Influence Transparency Law still in draft form and concerns about its potential to stifle free expression. The ongoing failure to enact a law to prohibit media monopolies and cross-ownership, and concerns over weak enforcement of the Anti-Infiltration Act are other important gaps.

header2 Background

Taiwan’s vibrant and competitive democratic system has allowed three peaceful transfers of power between rival parties since 2000, and protections for civil liberties are generally robust. Taiwan is rated Free in Freedom in the World 2022, the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual study of political rights and civil liberties.1 The country also hosts one of the freest online environments in the Asia region and is rated Free in the 2021 edition of Freedom on the Net, Freedom House’s annual study of internet freedom.2

Taiwanese news media collectively reflect a diversity of views and report aggressively on government policies, though many outlets display strong affiliation to various Taiwanese political parties in their coverage. Some key media owners have significant business interests in China and/or rely on advertising by Chinese companies, leaving them vulnerable to pressure and prone to self-censorship on topics considered sensitive by Beijing.3 Mandarin and Taiwanese—also called Hokkien—are the two most widely spoken languages, and Hakka is an official language.4 Several Indigenous languages are also officially recognized.5 The Mandarin and the Chinese writing system used in Taiwan have some differences from those used in China.

Formally there are no diplomatic relations between Taiwan and China. Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has a long-stated objective to unite it with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by peaceful or military means. The two governments have bilateral agreements on issues like family reunion and direct flights. Taiwan’s Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (Cross-Strait Law) prohibits or restricts Chinese investment in certain industries, including the media sector, and other activities. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) often exerts its media influence through proxies in the private sector or pressure on parent companies. Taiwan is home to small communities of Hong Kongers, Tibetans, and Falun Gong practitioners, and some Chinese who come to Taiwan to study, work, and marry, though they do not make up a significant portion of the population.6

In the past decade there has been growing pushback in Taiwan against Beijing’s influence. This was partly a response to the warming of relations between Beijing and Taipei under President Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT, or Nationalist Party), who held office from 2008 to 2016. The 2014 Sunflower Movement protests against Beijing’s economic influence resulted in the scrapping of a proposed Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement. In 2016, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen was elected president; she was then reelected in 2020 despite Beijing’s clear opposition to her candidacy. The DPP does not support unification with China and is vocally critical of the Chinese government. As a result of the party’s electoral success, Beijing has ramped up covert and coercive measures to destabilize Taiwan’s government. These tactics escalated further during this report’s 2019–21 coverage period, particularly following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

header3 Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts

Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives

 

Key narratives

Beijing’s propaganda in Taiwan is intended to sow local divisions, harm the country’s foreign relations, and destabilize its government. In many ways, CCP propaganda amounts to disinformation, as it purposefully disseminates false information about how the DPP governs with the aim to discredit the democratic system in Taiwan while promoting China’s authoritarian model and the idea of unification. Chinese state media regularly publish content on cultural or social issues to build a narrative of “one China” that incorporates Taiwan.

Chinese state media and their proxies have aggressively used the COVID-19 pandemic to advance such narratives. The CCP regime, often through local allies, criticized the Taiwanese government’s response to the pandemic, tried to raise concerns about vaccine availability or urge residents to turn to China for vaccines,1 and suggested that Taiwanese officials were not reliable or trustworthy. State media also attempted to use the pandemic to undermine US-Taiwan relations, for example by publishing articles claiming that Taiwanese netizens rejected US arms sales with the slogan, “We want vaccines, not weapons.”2

Other narratives promoted by Beijing have threatened Taiwan’s existence and its support from democracies around the world. Increased backing for Taiwan from other democratic countries has especially increased in 2021-22 due to Chinese government’s aggressive military maneuvers and the Russian military invasion of Ukraine and fears it may lead Beijing to invade Taiwan. The Chinese foreign ministry warned that Beijing would “take all necessary measures” to prevent Taiwanese independence.3 Chinese officials have also pushed narratives that “Taiwan is not Ukraine” and blamed the DPP for “stirring up trouble” in response to concerns that the Russian regime’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine may encourage the CPP to take similar military action against Taiwan.4 At the same time, Chinese state media overtly tied the war in Ukraine to Taiwan through slogans warning that the United States would encourage and then abandon Taiwan, such as “Today Ukraine, tomorrow Taiwan” and “Do not be an American pawn.”5

Key avenues of content dissemination

The Cross-Strait Law prevents Chinese state media from publishing or broadcasting in Taiwan, though Taiwanese regulations allow Chinese nationals to enter the country for technical exchanges, meaning correspondents from China may visit or be stationed in Taiwan.6 Before the outbreak of the pandemic, according to local media reports, there were 30 Chinese journalists from 10 different media outlets stationed in Taiwan, but by the end of 2021 there were only seven correspondents from five outlets: the state news agency Xinhua, China Central Television (CCTV), the satellite television channel Xiamen Star (廈門衛視), Hunan TV (湖南衛視), and the newspaper Hai Xia Dao Bao (海峽導報).7 According to Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, at least 468 Chinese correspondents have visited Taiwan between 2016 and 2022 to conduct interviews or report stories.8

Online, Xinhua publishes content in Traditional Chinese, the writing system used in Taiwan, and the CCP mouthpiece People’s Daily has an online Taiwanese edition, also using Traditional Chinese characters.9 China has long targeted Taiwan with radio propaganda since the 1950s since some Taiwanese islands close to China would be within broadcast range. The China Media Group has for years run a radio show called Voice of Taiwan Strait (臺海之聲) and launched a web portal with expanded content in March 2021 on the website Hello Taiwan (你好臺灣).10

Traditional news media in general remain popular in Taiwan, with 59 percent of the population receiving news through television, though only 19 percent reported receiving news through print outlets.11 Some 80 percent of Taiwanese people get news from online sources, including social media platforms like Line, Facebook, and YouTube. The internet in Taiwan is largely unrestricted, and Taiwanese users can access Chinese state media websites or engage with Chinese officials or state media accounts on social media platforms. Chinese officials and state media are active on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, and their content often circulates widely in Taiwan or is republished in Beijing-friendly local media.12

In practice, the most common avenues for dissemination of Chinese state media content in Taiwan are paid advertisements, coproduction and content-sharing agreements, local media that produce pro-CCP content, and journalist junkets and social media influencer trainings to cultivate Beijing-friendly voices. These findings align with research from Taiwan-based Doublethink Lab’s 2022 China Index, which tracks CCP influence in nine sectors, and found that Taiwan had the highest level of CCP media influence of the 36 countries examined.13

Paid advertorial content in local media: Although Chinese state media lack direct access to Taiwan, their content finds its way into the Taiwanese market through several channels, including illegal paid advertorials. Chinese state media outlets have flouted Taiwanese laws that ban Chinese officials from paying local media to publish pro-CCP political propaganda.14 Despite earlier investigations into the problem by Taiwanese lawmakers and the Mainland Affairs Council in 2010 and 2012,15 Freedom House research has confirmed that this practice continued during the 2019–21 coverage period.16 According to an academic study that surveyed 149 Taiwanese journalists in 2019, one-fifth of respondents had worked on projects involving cooperation with Chinese authorities on illegal embedded advertising at some point.17

According to journalists specializing in cross-strait affairs, several local media outlets are suspected of currently publishing paid advertorial content that comes directly or indirectly from Chinese officials.18 Such material looks like independently reported news articles, broadcast programs, or other products; since the practice is illegal, the content is not clearly marked as coming from Chinese state entities. According to an interview with a journalist who used to be stationed in China and wished to remain anonymous, “some newspapers… have often published ads sponsored by Chinese local governments about tourism and business opportunities in China.”19 A media editor specializing in cross-straits affairs cited a financial motive for the phenomenon, explaining, “Of course this is profitable.”20 That editor also reported that “a Kaohsiung newspaper had directly published content which is arranged and paid by China News Service every day.”21

According to the journalist formerly stationed in China who wished to remain anonymous, the China Taiwan Network (Taiwan.cn)—which is controlled by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office—and the Chinese publisher Jiuzhou Press privately contact Taiwanese media to collaborate on paid reports.22 Reportedly the Chinese state entities cover transportation fees or other indirect costs. In Taiwan, several pro-Beijing media groups often play a middleman role, arranging for other newspapers, television stations, and digital outlets to promote Chinese state propaganda and receive payment from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office and Chinese local governments.23 For example, one company runs an advertising agency, subcontracting the paid advertorial content from Chinese government bodies to Taiwanese media, according to a former senior editor at one of its publications.24

Coproduced content: Current affairs and cultural programs that were coproduced by Taiwanese media and Chinese entities, including Chinese state propaganda departments, are regularly broadcast in Taiwan. In early 2021, one Taiwanese outlet coproduced a feature, about Taiwanese who settled in China, with media organizations linked to China’s Taiwan Affairs Office.25 Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the program was scripted and filmed by media organizations tied to China’s Taiwan Affairs Office and then edited by Taiwanese media workers. Documentaries produced by Chinese provincial propaganda departments or state-owned channels have aired on television in Taiwan. For example, the 14-episode series Crossing Taiwan (過臺灣), produced by the Fujian Province propaganda department, was broadcast on TVBS in 2018 and is available on the TVBS YouTube channel, where it has garnered over 200,000 views.26 A 20-episode series on cultural identities, filmed by Xiamen TV and Eastern Broadcasting Company (EBC), was was broadcast on EBC China Television (CTV) in Taiwan in September and October 2019.27 A commentary program cohosted by Chung T'ien Television (CTiTV) and Shanghai Dragon TV has been on the air since 2013.28

Content-sharing agreements: While Chinese state media cannot directly broadcast or distribute content in Taiwan, several Taiwanese outlets have signed content-sharing agreements with them. These agreements are generally not public, and most information about them has been discovered through interviews with journalists. For example, such agreements reportedly exist between TVBS and CCTV,29 and between EBC News and Southeast TV and Xiamen Star.30 Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) has basic cooperation agreements with Xinhua and China News Agency to purchase photos and footage from one another. CNA also purchases Xinhua copy, which it uses mainly for domestic China news and sometimes for cross-strait and Asian regional news, and Chinese media purchase CNA content.31 According to an interview with a Taiwanese correspondent formerly based in China, “Taiwanese media would not directly repost Chinese media’s content but revise or reproduce the news. They use Chinese news materials particularly for China domestic incidents.”32 Other Taiwanese media republish or post Chinese state media content; for example, China Times rebroadcasts the press conferences of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on its Facebook and YouTube pages.33 Some outlets that do not want to publish negative reports about China instead wait for CCTV to publish a story and then adhere to that narrative.34

Beijing-friendly content produced by local media: Beijing wields influence in Taiwan by co-opting local business elites, particularly those with commercial interests in China. These elites are provided with economic incentives to support CCP media goals, and economic punishments are meted out to those who cross Beijing’s invisible redlines on political and sensitive issues.35 One of the most prominent alleged beneficiaries of this system is one of Taiwan’s richest men, Tsai Eng-meng. He is in favor of unification and controls an influential media conglomerate in the country, Want Want China Times Media Group (旺旺中時媒體集團), which includes the China Times newspaper and the television channels CTV and CTiTV.36 All of the group’s outlets carry pro-Beijing content and have reduced their coverage of human rights issues in China under Tsai’s ownership (see Censorship). CTV and CTiTV are both members of the CCP-led Belt and Road News Alliance.37

In 2019, the Financial Times reported that editors at China Times and CTiTV received instructions from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on coverage and placement of stories, citing journalists who worked at the outlets.38 That same year, Reuters reported that five media groups in Taiwan had been paid by the Chinese government to publish pro-Beijing content, based upon a review of internal company documents.39 The Chinese government has also signaled its friendly relations with the media group by providing subsidies to its related company Want Want China.40 Other Taiwanese media outlets have pro-Beijing ownership structures or investments that are more indirect and opaque. Cher Wang, chair of HTC Corporation (宏達電), bought more than a half of the shares of TVBS through investment companies in 2015–16.41 Wang is well known as a pro-China Taiwanese businesswoman; HTC has many factories in China and is economically dependent on the Chinese market.42 However, TVBS has not been influenced by Beijing as substantially as Want Want China Times Media Group.43

Local media that are friendly to Beijing have promoted CCP narratives, especially in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. China Times’ coverage of the pandemic obfuscated the fact that the virus originated in China and downplayed criticism of the Chinese government’s handling of the initial outbreak. It also accused the Taiwanese government of discriminating against China by calling the disease “Wuhan pneumonia,” which was the same term used in China at the beginning of the crisis.44

Subsidized journalist trips: For decades, Taiwanese journalists have been invited by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on trips to China to conduct media interviews or other reporting, though trips have stalled during the coverage period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cross-Strait Media Summit (海峽媒體峰會) has been held annually since 2009, co-organized by Chinese state media groups and Taiwanese media groups,45 with travel expenses normally covered by the Chinese government. In 2019, some 85 Taiwanese media professionals attended the Cross-Strait Media People’s Summit in Beijing (兩岸媒體人北京峰會), including owners, editors, and journalists.46 Want Want China Times Media Group also regularly hosts and co-organizes cross-strait media and internet conferences.47

In addition to the summits and conferences, Taiwanese journalists have been invited on trips to promote certain Chinese government policy priorities. For example, in 2019, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office arranged for Taiwanese journalists to travel to Guangxi Province to promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In 2021, it arranged for Taiwanese journalists already stationed in China to travel around Shanxi Province and the city of Yan’an, an important location in the CCP’s history, to promote the 100th anniversary of the party’s founding.48 According to those who have attended such trips, the journalists are added to a group on WeChat, the social media platform owned by PRC-based technology company Tencent, which has close ties to the CCP, and asked to send screenshots of their news reports, but they are not directly ordered to report or publish specific content.49

In a survey of Taiwanese journalists conducted in 2021, six out of 13 respondents said that some Taiwanese journalists published positive reports or comments after traveling to China on trips funded by the Chinese government.50 Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened cross-strait tensions, Xinhua and other Chinese state media have reportedly increasingly asked Taiwanese correspondents stationed in China to produce reporting on certain issues that can be repurposed as propaganda.51 Taiwanese journalists have not been allowed, like other journalists, to freely report on the ground from Xinjiang, the Uyghur homeland and location of atrocity crimes against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.52 State-sanctioned reporting trips to the region are also rare; the last officially organized trip to Xinjiang was in 2015, and a planned August 2018 trip was canceled.53

Trainings for social media influencers: As part of a newer strategy to shape and promote pro-CCP narratives in Taiwan, Chinese state-linked actors have organized trainings for online influencers to teach them skills like developing short videos and producing live shows, with the aim of attaining “online celebrity status.”54 Some of the trainings also give participants live broadcasting experience and elocution lessons. According to the National Security Agency of Taiwan, these trainings for Taiwanese internet celebrities and e-commerce live broadcasters are aimed at targeting people who wield considerable influence over the content consumed by young Taiwanese.55

In April 2021, for example, the Beijing-controlled China Taiwan Network (Taiwan.cn) ran an “e-commerce” influencer training.56 Separately, a Hangzhou investment association affiliated with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office ran a program called “Training Thousands of Taiwan Youth Anchors” between August 2020 and early 2022, with online and in-person sessions hosting hundreds of participants.57 The Zhejiang provincial government announced a scheme in July 2021 to train 1,200 Taiwanese youth e-commerce anchors, pledging to turn 30 of them into leading influencers.58 Government-linked groups in Fujian Province and Xiamen City held a Cross-Strait Youth Internet Celebrity Anchor Competition (海峽兩岸青年網紅主播大賽) and a Young Internet Celebrity Anchor Training Camp (青年網紅主播達人研習營) in December 2021; the 200 participants included Taiwanese youths as well as Taiwanese people living in China.59

Disinformation campaigns

Disinformation campaigns have been one of the most prominent avenues for CCP efforts to influence over Taiwanese media discourse, particularly during the 2019–21 coverage period. For the purposes of this report, disinformation is defined as the purposeful dissemination of false or misleading content, especially through inauthentic activity—such as the use of fake social media accounts—on global social media platforms.

Beijing has engaged in disinformation campaigns on issues including the Hong Kong prodemocracy protests, Taiwan’s relationship with the United States, and most prominently, Taiwan’s domestic politics. False or misleading narratives are often generated by Chinese state media, networks of automated “bot” accounts on social media, or so-called content farms; these narratives are then republished in some Taiwanese media, amplifying their influence. In the past three years, countless information operations have reached news consumers in Taiwan, to the extent that Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense declared it is combating the CCP’s “cognitive warfare” against Taiwan.60 A Taiwanese nongovernmental organization (NGO), the Information Operations Research Group (IORG), documents disinformation narratives and shows how many have connections to the CCP. In one six-month period in 2021, 14 suspicious narratives about vaccines appeared in Taiwanese social media and had links to the CCP.61

Chinese state-linked disinformation targeting Taiwan began in earnest in late 2018, when Chinese state media ran misleading articles about the evacuation of foreign nationals following a typhoon in Japan; a Taiwanese diplomat who was falsely accused of failing to rescue Taiwanese citizens later committed suicide.62 The following month, Chinese state media launched a new campaign focused on interfering with local elections.63 These efforts essentially backfired, as they created a growing awareness of such influence campaigns in Taiwanese society and among global social media platforms. A major attempt by Beijing to influence the outcome of the January 2020 presidential election notably failed, with DPP incumbent Tsai Ing-wen winning reelection by over 18 percentage points; the Taiwanese government, technology firms, and civil society groups had all worked to reduce the potential impact of CCP interference. Several detailed reports examined the Chinese state’s role in these disinformation campaigns.64

Researchers from Doublethink Lab found that China-linked disinformation is pushed into Taiwanese media through four main channels: (1) direct promotion by Chinese government departments and/or Chinese state media; (2) local actors inside China, such as lower-level government departments, state-affiliated users, pro-CCP netizens, or social media bot networks; (3) Taiwanese actors with commercial interests in the promotion of CCP narratives, including Taiwanese businesses and paid influencers; and (4) more generalized Facebook fan pages or content farms that push out pro-Beijing content in exchange for payment, without a political objective.65 False content is often directly published on social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Line, or YouTube—but also republished by local news media, and increasingly by seemingly credible alternative news sources like online influencers. For example, IORG found that the Facebook fan page of a prominent media expert, called Sisy’s World News (文茜的世界周報), was falsely attributing information to major international outlets like the New York Times when it actually came from Chinese state media.66

The CCP seized upon the COVID-19 pandemic to further ramp up disinformation and criticize Taiwan’s democratic system and elected government. Deliberately false content pushed out by CCP-linked actors included claims that 62,000 Taiwanese visited China specifically to receive vaccines; that the United States never sold vaccines to Taiwan; that Taiwan gifted vaccines to diplomatic allies even though supplies were lacking at home; and that the DPP government was causing the deaths of Taiwanese people by accepting faulty vaccines from Japan.67 The Taiwanese government debunked many of the claims.68

The CCP has also changed its tactics during the pandemic. Doublethink Lab identified a new method of spreading false information since February 2020, in which the poster claims to be a relative or friend of a Taiwanese legislator with “insider” information about the spread of the virus. The posts imply that the Taiwanese government is lying to the public about the severity of the health crisis. They are mainly produced by accounts on China’s Weibo social media platform and then circulated through various other channels, including fake accounts and groups on Facebook and Twitter, and then later YouTube.69

While it is difficult to generalize the types of people who are more likely to share or believe fake news, as different issues affect different people, one research study looked at groups that were most likely to believe or be unable to identify fake news during the 2018 elections. It found that the people most influenced by disinformation during that time were neutral voters, 20- to 29-year-old young men, women, and people with lower incomes.70 Another study found frequency and dissemination of information through their networks made people more likely to believe information.71 CCP-linked disinformation campaigns enjoy varying levels of success, with some posts attracting thousands or even millions of views, but have clearly made an impact on Taiwanese society in provoking a response in the form of civil society initiatives and new government policies and legislation (see Resilience and response). Professor Jaw-Nian Huang (黃兆年), during an IORG-organized conference, described Beijing’s disinformation campaigns as attempts to “tell a bad democracy story,” and argued that the democratic response should be to “tell a good story about Taiwan’s democracy.”72

Censorship and intimidation

The CCP engages in direct censorship targeting Taiwanese journalists and media outlets in China. Self-censorship is prevalent in Taiwan among pro-Beijing media outlets and companies with business ties to China. Online censorship is relatively rare in Taiwan, especially for news outlets, and any government-ordered restrictions are based on legal provisions.

  • Chinese government-linked censorship: The websites of most Taiwanese media outlets, especially those that cover human rights issues or otherwise deviate from a pro-Beijing editorial line, are blocked in China. Taiwan’s official news agency, CNA, and a pro-KMT newspaper are also blocked.73 A check by Freedom House in December 2021 found that the staunchly pro-Beijing China Times is not blocked.74 Taiwanese journalists from Liberty Times and Apple Daily have not been allowed to report from China, and Taiwanese correspondents who do work in China have reported being detained, harassed, and threatened with visa denials based on their coverage.75 Taiwanese correspondents have also reported that Chinese officials blocked them from attending certain events or refused to grant interviews in retaliation for critical coverage, which may lead some Taiwanese journalists to self-censor in exchange for access.76
  • Censorship by Beijing’s media proxies and journalist self-censorship: Censorship within proxy media, such as the Want Want China Times Media Group, is rampant. A former China Times journalist, Liao Zhao-xiang (廖肇祥), called out the media group for its censorship in a letter to management shortly before leaving the company in 2019.77 A 2015 academic paper found that on certain topics, such as Xinjiang, 100 percent of China Times reports were based on Chinese state media; even United Daily News, which supports the KMT but is not as explicitly pro-CCP as China Times, cited Chinese state media in 78 percent of reports on Xinjiang.78 Similar patterns were evident during the coverage period. After Hong Kong’s prodemocracy protests broke out in June 2019, Want Want-owned CTiTV did not cover the story.79 According to one academic analysis, in the first five years that Want Want owned China Times (2008–13), the paper reduced its reports on human rights issues in China by two-thirds, from an average of 350 articles per year to fewer than 100 articles. By 2013, fewer than 8 percent of the outlets’ in-depth reports covered human rights issues.80  According to the 2019 survey of 149 Taiwanese journalists, nearly 50 percent of the respondents said they had been ordered by their company or supervisor to reduce reports on sensitive issues, and 29 percent said they had self-censored on their own. Even more of the respondents had heard of such practice in their industry: 75 percent replied that they had heard of supervisors asking journalists to reduce coverage of issues that would be sensitive to the Chinese government, while 60 percent replied that other journalists self-censored their reports on sensitive issues without being instructed to do so.81  Want Want China Times Media Group has also been accused of direct coordination with Chinese authorities. In addition to the directives on coverage and placement of stories communicated by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office exposed by the Financial Times (see Propaganda), a former senior editor at China Times asserted that even a low-level official from that office would at times call by telephone and talk to China Times editors in a threatening manner about the paper’s news coverage.82
  • Defamation lawsuits to stifle reporting: The Want Want China Times Media Group and Tsai Eng-meng have used defamation complaints to deter or suppress reporting on their close relationship with Beijing, though prosecutors or courts have dropped several such cases. Tsai sued Chen Ning-guan (陳凝觀), the host of the Next TV political talk show Era Money (年代向錢看), after she accused him in 2019 of purchasing his media holdings to carry out external propaganda for the CCP, and of receiving illegal funding from the CCP for the purpose of unification.83 Want Want also sued Financial Times journalist Kathrin Hille over her article reporting that China’s Taiwan Affairs Office directed news coverage at the group’s outlets; another lawsuit targeted the CNA for republishing Hille’s report.84 The group eventually rescinded both cases.85
  • Businesses protecting interests in China: In recent years, Chinese authorities and/or pro-CCP netizens have persuaded some Taiwanese celebrities and corporations to censor themselves by threatening their business interests in China. According to a survey of Taiwanese journalists conducted for Freedom House, three out of 13 respondents said some companies avoided or withdrew advertisements placed with Taiwanese media that are critical of Beijing.86 Online influencer “Guan Chang” (館長) indicated that many business partners had canceled deals with him to avoid jeopardizing their access to the Chinese market after he held the Anti-Red Media Movement demonstration in 2019.87 In another case involving an influencer in 2019, a Chinese new media company sought to cancel a contract with Taiwanese YouTuber “Porter King” (波特王) because he had produced a video with President Tsai Ing-wen. The company tried to prohibit Porter King from calling Tsai Ing-wen “president” and asked him to delete the video immediately. He refused and canceled the contract himself.88 Taiwanese businesses with extensive commercial connections to China have faced growing pressure. After Beijing imposed a US$74.4 million fine on the Far Eastern Group in November 2021, the conglomerate’s chairman wrote an article parroting CCP propaganda and declaring that the company “opposed Taiwanese independence.”89 The fine was ostensibly handed down for violations of certain Chinese regulations, but Chinese state media described them as punishment for the Far Eastern Group’s previous donations to the DPP.90
  • Cyberattacks: Taiwan is subjected to frequent cyberattacks, emanating from China in particular, and media outlets and journalists have been targeted. The country’s Department of Cyber Security said in 2019 that Taiwan faced about 30 million technical attacks every month, such as webpage defacements and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, half of which are believed to originate in China.91 On September 29, 2019, the apps and websites of Apple Daily’s Taiwan and Hong Kong editions were hit by a cyberattack.92 The incursion occurred on the anniversary of an Anti-Totalitarianism March in Taiwan and in the midst of the Hong Kong prodemocracy protests, and it may have been linked to the Chinese government. Reports from 2013 state that Apple Daily and CNA have faced persistent hacking attempts from China.93 In the survey of Taiwanese journalists conducted for this report, two of the journalists surveyed had likely been subject to a hacking attempt; they had received warnings about unusual log-ins on their phones.94 In total, six out of 13 respondents said that they had heard of reporters facing cyberattacks, including apparent hacking attempts, in retaliation for criticizing Beijing or reporting on issues that are sensitive to the CCP. The US State Department has also indicated that Chinese government actors conduct cyberattacks against Taiwanese journalists’ computers and mobile phones.95
  • Physical attacks Hong Konger activists in exile: During the coverage period, physical attacks on individuals critical of the CCP occurred in Taiwan, with one of the cases linked to a Chinese national. In April 2020, Hong Kong bookseller and outspoken activist Lam Wing-kee was splashed with red paint days before opening a bookstore in Taiwan’s capital.96 Lam had previously been kidnapped and allegedly tortured by Chinese agents for publishing books which mocked the CCP.97 A Taiwan court sentenced the attackers, who claimed to be unhappy with Lam’s ideas and bookstore, to three to four months in prison.98 In October 2020, four men hired by a Chinese national attacked a Hong Kong prodemocracy-themed restaurant in Taipei that employed Hong Kongers in exile.99

Control over content distribution infrastructure

Beijing exercises limited control over content distribution infrastructure in Taiwan due to the Cross-Strait Law, which prevents Chinese companies from owning telecommunications infrastructure. However, Chinese technology companies with close ties to Beijing have a growing presence in the country. At the beginning of 2018, TikTok officially entered Taiwan and swiftly became the most downloaded short-video application; by 2020 it was the fourth most-downloaded iOS app in Taiwan.100 TikTok is a global subsidiary of the PRC-based social media company ByteDance. There have been some documented cases around the world in recent years of TikTok removing or downplaying politically sensitive content, including content that violates domestic Chinese censorship guidelines, although the company has subsequently reported correcting errors.101 A media report from June 2022 based on leaked TikTok meetings raised concern that statements made by ByteDance regarding data privacy of US users were false, and more broadly called into question other statements the company has made regarding its policies.102

iQiyi, a China-based streaming service that is now banned from operating in Taiwan due to regulations that prohibit Chinese investment in the streaming media sector, was ranked first in market share among Taiwanese users in 2019 and second in 2020 before the ban took effect that year.103 Chinese-made mobile devices are not widely used in Taiwan though still make up a notable market share. The Chinese manufacturer with the largest market share in the country is OPPO, which accounted for 11.4 percent of phone sales in June 2021.104 .

Taiwanese authorities have started to adopt more formal measures to exclude Chinese technology companies with a history of surveillance and censorship. The government banned Huawei, a PRC-based company with close CCP ties and a record of building censorship and surveillance systems in China and abroad, from building fifth-generation (5G) telecommunications networks in the country and has enforced some US sanctions on the firm.105 In January 2021, equipment made by Chinese surveillance firms Dahua and Hikvision were banned for government use.106 Despite these restrictions, several Chinese surveillance technologies are found in Taiwan, and some Taiwanese politicians have accused Chinese surveillance companies of obscuring their country of origin to evade Taiwanese controls.107

Dissemination of CCP media norms, tactics, or governance models

While the CCP’s media footprint in Taiwan is extensive, there are clear political constraints preventing any adoption of a Beijing-style media governance model. The ruling DPP explicitly opposes such emulation, and despite the opposition KMT’s warmer ties with Chinese authorities, it too supports Taiwan’s self-governance.

The adoption of CCP norms is more likely to be found among nongovernmental actors like private companies. For example, Want Want China Times Media Group suppresses coverage that disfavors Beijing, sues journalists for reporting critically on its ties to the CCP, and publishes CCP propaganda. The conglomerate’s Chinese parent company, Want Want China Holdings Limited, has received significant subsidies directly from the Chinese government.108 It then channels those funds to its sibling media group in Taiwan through advertising purchases and office facilities, which creates an imbalance in the media market by effectively subsidizing pro-CCP outlets.109

header4 Resilience + response

Underlying media resilience

  • Investigative media skills and dedicated China coverage: Taiwanese media outlets collectively have the resources and skills to conduct investigative reporting. However, these assets are distributed unequally depending on the type of outlet, with many television stations, newspapers, and websites adopting a “clickbait” approach for financial reasons.1 Despite the economic pressures affecting Taiwan’s media sector, a number of outlets have reported in depth on issues that the Chinese government aims to dismiss, such as the human rights situation in Xinjiang, protests in Hong Kong, and CCP political and media influence in Taiwan.2 Online news outlets like The Reporter (報導者) and Readr published several investigative reports in 2019–20 on the CCP’s global propaganda efforts.3  Taiwanese media outlets have correspondents based in China or dedicated to China-related reporting. CNA, China Times, United Daily News, TVBS, and ETtoday all have reporters on the ground in China.4 However, coverage of Chinese government policies depends in part on the political stance of the outlet. Pro-KMT or pro-unification media, such as China Times and United Daily News, tend to publish fewer reports that are critical of Beijing than do rival outlets like Apple Daily and Liberty Times, whose reporters are blocked from getting visas to China.5 At the same time, there is a noticeable difference between China Times and United Daily News, with the latter still reporting on issues like the detention of a Taiwanese human rights activist in China and the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.6
  • Public pushback and refusal to join coproduction deals: Some Taiwanese media outlets have pushed back on CCP influence efforts. The chief editor of Liberty Times, a paper that is generally seen as backing the DPP and its pro-independence allies, indicated that she has declined offers from Chinese officials to undertake “cooperation projects,” and that Liberty Times continues to reject advertisements from China, including commercial ads that are allowed under law.7 In June 2019, China Times journalist Liao Zhao-xiang (廖肇祥) resigned in protest over that paper’s lack of coverage of certain topics. His open letter of resignation accused China Times of using the threat of dismissal to force journalists to produce propaganda content and urged the public to pay attention.8
  • “Internal” and “everyday” strategies to resist censorship: According to the 2019 survey of 149 Taiwanese journalists, they have different strategies for addressing self-censorship or embedded CCP-linked advertising. Nearly 50 percent of the respondents said they have resorted to “internal resistance,” meaning they communicated or complained to their company or supervisor; 13 percent said they had engaged in “external resistance,” meaning they expressed their disagreement by participating in public petitions or protests. In addition, some have chosen to resign in protest: 36 percent chose to leave their company, while 13 percent chose to leave the media industry. Meanwhile, as many as 61 percent have resorted to “everyday resistance,” or resisting within the scope of their professional discretion, for instance by disobeying instructions, deliberately declining to take an action, or correcting content themselves.9
  • New funding strategies for media outlets: Taiwanese media have been at the forefront in developing new funding strategies to mitigate the financial troubles affecting the media sector in many democracies, which the CCP often exploits. For example, the digital investigative news site The Reporter, founded in 2015, is a nonprofit run by The Reporter Cultural Foundation and it is funded by a grant from a local businessman as well as reader contributions.10 Another model has been adopted by the news and information platform Newtalk (新頭殼), operated by Pioneer Media Social Enterprise Co. Ltd. The shareholders are a group of lawyers, physicians, and intellectuals, and the enterprise is supported by small stock offerings, advertising, and content sales to online portals.11 The sector also includes independent public broadcasters. One such outlet, Public Television Service, received nearly 50 percent of its 2020 revenue from commissions for projects, usually from the Ministry of Culture, the legislature, or other public broadcasters; another 40 percent from government subsidies; and the remainder from donations and other sources.12
  • Media training on CCP influence: While journalism programs at Taiwanese universities offer courses about Chinese media, cross-strait media, and journalistic ethics, few have dedicated courses on Chinese government efforts to influence foreign media. However, civic groups and NGOs that are concerned about Taiwanese media independence and professionalism have offered workshops or forums on the subject. For example, the Foundation for Excellent Journalism Award (卓越新聞獎基金會) holds an annual Asian Journalism Forum with 70 to 80 journalists and journalism students from across the Chinese-speaking world, including critical journalists from China.13 The forum covers topics such as Chinese media and how to report and conduct interviews in China.14 Separately, the Association for Quality Journalism (優質新聞發展協會), the Taiwan FactCheck Center (臺灣事實查核中心), and the Foundation for Excellent Journalism Award hold an annual workshop on fact-checking and investigative reporting. In 2020, the theme was Beijing’s information warfare.15

 

Civil society responses

  • Leveraging a high degree of local expertise: Taiwan’s civil society features a high degree of expertise and knowledge on China, with numerous scholars and civic groups specializing in Chinese media influence. These include the China Impact Studies Research Team (中國效應主題研究小組) at the Academia Sinica Institute of Sociology and the Economic Democracy Union (經濟民主連合), which was born out of the Sunflower Movement and monitors Chinese-funded activities in Taiwan.16 The Mainland Affairs Council regularly consults with civil society experts who give policy recommendations to the government.17  Several Taiwanese civil society groups work on defending press freedom, improving media literacy, tracking disinformation, and countering fake news with fact-checking. Most are funded through private donations or through volunteer efforts.18  The Taiwan Journalists Association (臺灣新聞記者協會) plays a role in organizing and mobilizing collective action in the Taiwanese media sector. For instance, it was responsible for organizing a resolution at the International Federation of Journalists to condemn the United Nations policy of excluding Taiwanese media, among other solidarity actions.19  The Taiwan Media Watch Education Foundation (臺灣媒體觀察教育基金會) and the Association for Quality Journalism (優質新聞發展協會) work with professional journalists to improve the Taiwanese media environment, enhance journalistic ethics, promote media literacy education, and more recently, identify fake news and disinformation.20  The g0v (零時政府) movement is a grassroots social community that encourages citizens to participate in public affairs and influence the government by providing easy-to-read information and easy-to-use services.21  Two organizations, Doublethink Lab (臺灣民主實驗室) and Information Operations Research Group (IORG) (臺灣資訊環境研究中心), track and monitor Chinese disinformation.22  Taiwan FactCheck Center (臺灣事實查核中心) has been publishing fact-checking reports since July 2018.23 In 2021, it received a 1 million dollar donation from Google to support its work, and it has also partnered with Facebook.24 When the pandemic broke out in early 2020, Taiwan FactCheck Center and the International Fact-Checking Organization formed the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, which was the largest cross-border fact-checking cooperation project.25  Other fact-checking agencies in Taiwan include MyGoPen, which collaborates with Facebook, Rumour and Truth and Cofacts.26 FakeNewsCleaner (假新聞清潔劑), another fact-checking group, has also held over 400 workshops to improve media literacy since it was founded in 2018.27  Independent media organization Watchout (沃草) works to provide citizens with tools and content to increase civic participation, including reporting on disinformation and producing handbooks and videos on how to spot it.28
  • Development and expansion of media literacy programs: Civil society groups like IORG have held dozens of media literacy workshops to teach residents of all ages to recognize fake news and information manipulation and to utilize fact-checking platforms.29 From July 2020 to February 2021, IORG held 68 workshops in which more than 1,700 participants—including middle and high school students—practiced fact-checking, examined media content, and discussed fake news. Media literacy programs are now part of the Ministry of Education’s curriculum, and international companies like Google have donated to these programs.30
  • “Anti-Red Media” awareness campaigns: Civil society has been instrumental in raising public awareness of CCP influence in the media. The term “red media” is used in Taiwan to describe Taiwanese-owned media that promote Beijing’s interests. In June 2019, legislator Huang Guo-chang (黃國昌) and the internet celebrity “Guan Chang” (館長), or Chen Zhi-han (陳之漢), held a demonstration titled “Reject the Red Media and Protect Taiwan’s Democracy” to protest Chinese infiltration of Taiwanese media and public opinion as well as the participation of Taiwanese media in cross-strait summits.31 The 2019 Anti-Red Media Movement, as it came to be called, crowdfunded and mobilized 50,000 protesters to pressure the government on adoption of legislation to curb “red media.”32 The movement called for an amendment (known as “Red Media Terms”) to the Cross-Strait Law and introduction of a Foreign Influence Transparency Act.33 The proposed legislation had not been passed at the time of writing.

Legal sphere

  • Robust legal protections: Taiwan’s judiciary is independent, and court rulings are generally free from political or other improper interference. The country has laws that restrict foreign ownership of media,34 political party ownership of radio and television broadcasters,35 and “vexatious proceedings”—a legal category similar to strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).36 While such punitive defamation cases remain common, with the Want Want China Times Media Group and its owner Tsai Eng-meng among the most prolific litigants (see Censorship), the judicial authorities have repeatedly ruled against them. In June 2021, the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office threw out Tsai’s complaint against three individuals who had discussed his agenda during a talk show and said it was CCP propaganda, finding that “the defendants had a basis for their opinions, and the topic was of public interest.”37 Another defamation suit against the journalist Chen Ning-guan was thrown out by the Taiwan High Court in September 2021.38 China Times lost a defamation case against former reporter Chen Zhi-dong in 2020, when the court ruled that his blog post calling the newspaper a “red guard poster” was an exercise of his right to free speech.39
  • New and draft legislation on disinformation, foreign interference, and investment in media: In response to growing awareness of CCP disinformation and influence operations after the 2018 elections, the DPP introduced two bills to regulate foreign interference in Taiwan. In December 2019 it passed the Anti-Infiltration Act. The act went into effect in January 2020 weeks before the presidential election and despite heavy criticism from the KMT, which called it an example of “green terror” (referring to the DPP’s party color) designed to intimidate political opponents.40 Under the act, criminal penalties are increased if certain offenses surrounding elections, referendums, lobbying, and political donations are found to have been directed, financed, or commissioned by a “foreign hostile force”; middlemen who coordinate between the source of infiltration and their local agents also fall under the scope of the act.41 Violators of the law face a five-year prison sentence and a NT$10 million (US$334,000) fine. The government cited the activities of the CCP’s United Front Work Department as a reason for the law.42 After the passage of the act, pro-Beijing online media outlet Master Chain announced that it was ending its operations in Taiwan. Master Chain was reportedly the first Taiwanese media outlet that the Chinese government permitted to set up an office in China.43  Another bill, the draft Foreign Influence Transparency Act, was also introduced in 2019, but the KMT has been able to block it in the legislature, and it had not been enacted at the time of writing.44 The bill focuses on the registration and disclosure of local agents of foreign powers who perform specific activities in Taiwan, and was inspired by similar laws in the United States and Australia. Also in 2019, Taiwan’s legislature passed seven amendments in response to disinformation campaigns, including measures that increased criminal penalties for spreading disinformation, enforcement of which could prove problematic.45 Taiwan already has laws that impose liability for online content, such as the Social Order Maintenance Act of 1991.46  Lawmakers have also introduced legislation that would require Taiwanese media entities to disclose investments by shareholders to enhance transparency and expose any CCP-linked investment.47 The existing Cross-Strait Law and legislation known as the Measures Governing Investment Permit to the People of Mainland Area effectively ban investment in the media and other sectors by Chinese companies, and the government has enforced both laws. In September 2020, the Ministry of Economic Affairs ordered the streaming sites iQiyi, owned by the Chinese search-engine giant Baidu, and WeTV, owned by the Chinese tech conglomerate Tencent, to shut down their Taiwanese sites on the grounds that online streaming is not open to investment from mainland China under these two laws.48 Taiwanese users can still access the mainland Chinese versions of the sites, which are very popular.49
  • Regulatory oversight: Taiwan’s media regulator, the National Communications Commission (NCC), is independent from the political leadership and has played a more active supervisory role since the end of 2018.50 The NCC has issued warnings to media outlets and handed down fines to CTiTV, EBC News, SET News, TVBS, and other stations for violating the fact-checking mechanism stipulated in Article 27 of the Satellite Broadcasting Law.51 In November 2020, after repeated warnings and fines issued over several years, the NCC decided not to renew the broadcast license of the pro-Beijing television channel CTi News; the channel shut down as a result.52 In July and November 2019, the NCC also investigated allegations that CTiTV, China TV, EBC News, and TVBS had accepted illegal CCP-linked funding and conducted propaganda activities for Beijing.53 In March 2019, the NCC closed a Taiwan-registered website (www.31t.tw) that was operated by a company under the direct management of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office.54

Political sphere

  • Cross-party opposition to CCP human rights violations: There is cross-party support for Taiwan’s democratic system and denunciation of the CCP’s human rights abuses. Party leaders and legislators from across the political spectrum have issued statements or spoken publicly to condemn human rights violations in China and Beijing’s crackdowns in Hong Kong. Han Kuo-yu, the Beijing-friendly KMT candidate in the 2020 presidential election, said Taiwan would adopt the CCP’s “one country, two systems” model for unification “over my dead body.”55 There is also significant popular support for a variety of groups that are persecuted by the Chinese state, including survivors of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and religious and ethnic minorities such as Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Hong Kong prodemocracy protesters. This support is evident in coverage of related press conferences, lawsuits, film screenings, and other public events.56
  • DPP focus on Beijing’s influence: The political shift against Chinese influence that helped bring the DPP to power 2016 led to an escalation in CCP interference in the country’s governance, which in turn generated an even greater political pushback in response. There is a partisan divide on this issue, however, with the DPP in particular expressing more concern about the covert, corrupting, or coercive elements of Beijing’s influence in Taiwan. President Tsai Ing-wen and other DPP officials have repeatedly spoken out or enacted laws regarding CCP meddling in the media sector. In June 2019, the president said the Anti-Red Media Movement represented Taiwanese society’s worries about Chinese infiltration of Taiwanese media, and gave assurances that her administration and the legislature were trying to deal with disinformation coming from China.57 In May 2021, government spokesperson Luo Ping-chen (羅秉成) said that state security agencies were working to counter Beijing’s attempts to undermine local governance through “cognitive warfare.”58 Taiwan’s National Security Bureau also stated that it had a list of “fellow media,” meaning local media directed by Beijing, and that it would consider releasing the list if necessary.59
  • Hearings on and response to CCP media influence: Legislators have opened inquiries or held hearings on the issue of CCP media influence. In October 2020, NCC's hearing examined CTiTV’s application for a broadcasting license and its potential impact on national security.60 In October 2019, DPP legislators held a hearing with external experts to solicit information on two draft bills, the Foreign Influence Transparency Law and the Cross-Strait Law.61 The legislature held a public hearing in November 2019 about the Anti-Infiltration Act, discussing how to establish a democratic defense mechanism against the activities of the CCP’s United Front Work Department.62  The government has also responded when Chinese state media outlets have strayed into political programming. In 2020, two journalists from Southeast TV were expelled from Taiwan for “illegally producing political programs,” in part by hiring a studio in Taiwan to invite Taiwanese politicians on a talk show to discuss current affairs.63 In April 2022, the Mainland Affairs Council announced a review of political talk shows on Xiamen Star to determine whether they had violated the Cross-Strait Law.64
  • Government responses to CCP-linked disinformation: Government agencies have established initiatives to track disinformation, such as the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau’s Disinformation Prevention Center, which was established in August 2019 ahead of the January 2020 elections.65 In 2020, the National Security Bureau expanded its cybersecurity unit to cover disinformation related to foreign entities.66 At the end of 2019, the government created a new strategy to prevent and respond to disinformation through four basic steps: identify, clarify, restrain, and punish.67 As a result, nearly every department of the Taiwanese government has a Facebook page that it uses to swiftly debunk disinformation. Under the government’s “222 principle,” officials must clarify disinformation within two hours, using 200 words of text and two images, which makes the response easy to share and understand on social media.68 The government has also cooperated with the messaging platform Line to connect official clarifications on disinformation to the platform’s instant fact-checking Digital Responsibility Program.69

Private sector

  • Limited private-sector response: Taiwan’s private sector is one of its weakest links in terms of resistance to CCP influence. China is the country’s largest trading partner, with over 40 percent of Taiwanese exports in 2020 going to China or Hong Kong, and 22 percent of all imports coming from China and Hong Kong.70 However, in one instance of Taiwanese pushback against Chinese economic coercion, a social media campaign dubbed #freedompineapple went viral after Chinese authorities in February 2021 announced a ban on the import of Taiwanese pineapples.71 Taiwanese consumers quickly responded to the campaign, and within four days domestic orders of pineapples overtook the amount sold to China, with netizens using the hashtag to share recipes online.72
  • Social media platforms’ response to disinformation: International social media companies have responded vigorously to CCP-linked disinformation targeting Taiwan. In March 2020, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, removed 60 accounts controlled by Chinese users that spread false information about COVID-19 in Taiwan and criticized the Taiwanese government’s handling of the pandemic.73 Though the accounts were not directly linked to the Chinese government, they were spreading pro-Beijing narratives. By the end of the following year, Meta announced it had removed nearly 600 Facebook accounts and 80 Instagram accounts linked to the Chinese-state that targeted users in Taiwan, the United States, and United Kingdom.74 Meta has also taken action on content farms in Taiwan. From October-December 2019, the company took down hundreds of Taiwanese content farm pages like Mission (密訊), KKnews, and Hssszn (讚新聞).75 They continued to crop up so Facebook changed its algorithm in October 2020 to lower the search-results rankings and exclude from news feed information pushed out from the content farms.76 Facebook dedicated resources to establish a Elections Operation Center, or so called “war room,” tasked with fighting disinformation surrounding Taiwan’s January 2020 presidential election, and it released a report about the experience later that year, titled “Defending Election Integrity in Taiwan.”77 The war room was considered a success and contributed to preventing CCP propaganda from influencing the outcome of the elections.78 Starting in January 2019, in a change to address global concerns about disinformation and reduce the impact of fake news, WhatsApp limited the frequency that users could forward messages, resulting in a 70 percent global drop in “highly forwarded” messages.79 Despite these actions, some specific to Taiwan and other more global, there remains concerns that platforms resist measures to enhance transparency and increased regulation.80

header5 Vulnerabilities

  • Weak press council tasked with handling complaints: Taiwan has an independent press council, the Republic of China News Review Council (中華民國新聞評議委員會), that deals with complaints against media outlets through investigations and hearings. Despite its reputation and efforts, the council’s power is limited; it receives few complaints each year, and it lacks the authority to compel outlets to undertake remedial action.1 The press council has not issued any guidance on ethical standards or best practices for engagement with foreign state media.
  • Lack of legislation on cross-ownership and regulations on transparency: Despite a degree of political momentum stemming from a 2012–13 campaign against media monopolies, draft legislation that would prohibit monopolies and limit cross-ownership of outlets in different media formats has stalled in the legislature.2 The Foreign Influence Transparency Law is still in draft form at the time of writing and there are concerns over weak enforcement of the Anti-Infiltration Act.
  • Partisan divisions over CCP influence: Opposition politicians from the KMT, which generally supports closer relations with China, have denounced efforts by President Tsai and the DPP to respond to CCP interference in Taiwan’s media and democracy.3 Pro-KMT or pro-unification media tend to publish fewer reports that are critical of Beijing. The KMT has opposed measures like the Anti-Infiltration Act, warning that they could be used in a politicized manner and violate fundamental rights.4 KMT leaders also denounced the NCC’s decision to revoke the broadcast license of CTi News, arguing that it violated free speech guarantees and was an attempt by the DPP to suppress political rivals.5
  • Lack of business resistance to advertising pressure: While outspoken outlets such as Apple Daily and Liberty Times are unlikely to receive advertising money from Chinese state-linked companies, there has been little research on businesses’ refusal to accept CCP-linked advertising funds. None of the 13 Taiwanese journalists who responded to the survey conducted for Freedom House in late 2021 could point to any Taiwanese businesses that avoided advertising or investing in pro-Beijing media.6

header6 Impact and Public Opinion

The overall impact of Beijing’s media influence in Taiwan is limited, due in part to the multisector response and widespread awareness of the issue in Taiwanese society. The country already has strict rules on Chinese investment in domestic media, though these barriers do not fully block CCP efforts to shape the media landscape. Chinese media and pro-Beijing Taiwanese media have low credibility in Taiwan, and recent civil society–led efforts have exposed CCP-linked tactics for manipulating news content. Taiwan’s robust civil society, and the highly publicized resignations of journalists, have done a great deal to raise awareness of CCP influence operations and push for a response. The CCP itself, by resorting to a heavy-handed approach in its propaganda, disinformation, and censorship, has alienated Taiwanese news consumers and generated greater public concern about manipulated content. Taiwanese government countermeasures, such as fact-checking reports and the 222 principle for responding to disinformation, have been positively received. Some 70 percent of Taiwanese said fact-checking could weaken the effect of fake news, according to a March 2021 poll.1

CCP influence efforts, combined with Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, have largely backfired with respect to Taiwanese public opinion on the Chinese government and the idea of unification, instead pushing many Taiwanese citizens to favor closer relations with the United States. Polls showed that Taiwanese opposition to Beijing’s “one country, two systems” formula for unification jumped from 75.4 percent in January 2019 to 85.6 percent in November 2021.2 Another annual survey showed that the number of Taiwanese who view the Chinese government as friendly is decreasing, while the number of Taiwanese who view the Chinese government as an enemy is increasing.3 According to a June 2020 Pew Research Center poll, Taiwanese respondents are more supportive of greater economic engagement with the United States (85 percent) than with China (52 percent).4 Following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, and comparisons of a potential invasion of Taiwan by China, a public opinion poll in April 2022 found a slight majority of Taiwanese respondents tend to support the independence of Taiwan..5

CCP disinformation in Taiwan has also caused the public to become more aware of the threat posed by manipulated information and “red media.” According to a poll conducted by the China Impact Studies Research Team at Academia Sinica in 2021, 71.4 percent of Taiwanese respondents agreed that the “Taiwan government should regulate news media if they are used by Chinese government to conduct its propaganda,” and slightly more (72.1 percent) called for regulation in relation to social media.6

However, disinformation targeting Taiwan has become more refined and unpredictable. While opinion polls show that a majority of respondents do not believe the false information injected into Taiwanese media, it still has a significant impact, muddying the waters and increasing uncertainty as to whether certain points of information are true or false. For example, according to an opinion poll conducted in September 2019, 24.6 percent and 25.7 percent of respondents answered “yes” or “don’t know/no opinion,” respectively, to the question of whether there was a problem with the authenticity of Tsai Ing-wen’s doctoral dissertation at the London School of Economics. This false narrative, amplified by CCP-linked actors in 2019, gained enough traction to sway public opinion.7 In a poll conducted in 2020, the share of respondents who either continued to believe that Tsai’s doctorate was not real or had no opinion persisted at 37 percent.8

  • 1“假新聞瀰漫 民調:8成民眾相信政府與媒體報導,” [Fake News Flooded. Poll: 80% people believe the government and media reports], Commercial Times, March 26, 2021, https://ctee.com.tw/livenews/ch/chinatimes/20210326003962-260405.
  • 2Polls conducted by Mainland Affairs Council, November 10-14, 2021, https://ws.mac.gov.tw/001/Upload/295/relfile/7837/77357/8845a1ea-6ff5-4….
  • 3China Impact Survey conducted by the “China Impact Studies Research Team” (中國效應主題研究小組) at the Institute of Sociology at the Academia Sinica. The statistics are provided by Jaw-Nian Huang, a research team member for China Impact Studies.
  • 4Kat Devlin, Laura Silver and Christine Huang, “In Taiwan and across the region, many support closer economic ties with both US and mainland China,” Pew Research Center, June 10, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/10/in-taiwan-and-across-t….
  • 5Keoni Everington, “Majority of Taiwanese now want independence amid Ukraine war,” Taiwan News, April 26, 2022, https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4519642.
  • 6China Impact Survey conducted by the “China Impact Studies Research Team” (中國效應主題研究小組) at the Institute of Sociology at the Academia Sinica. The statistics are provided by Jaw-Nian Huang, a research team member for China Impact Studies.
  • 7You Tsun-Ren, “台灣民意基金會民調》蔡英文博士論文爭議 近5成民眾不相信有問題,” [Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation: Tsai Ing-wen's Doctoral Dissertation Controversy, Nearly 50% of the Public Do Not Believe There is A Problem], Newtalk, September 24, 2019, https://newtalk.tw/news/view/2019-09-24/302559 ; Chu Kuan-Yu, “台灣民意基金會民調》蔡英文博士論文有問題?逾5成民眾不相信!,” [Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation: Tsai Ing-wen’s Doctoral Dissertation Has A problem? More than 50% of the People Do Not Believe It.], The Storm Media, October 28, 2019, https://www.storm.mg/article/1873285.
  • 8China Impact Survey conducted by the “China Impact Studies Research Team” (中國效應主題研究小組) at the Institute of Sociology at the Academia Sinica. The statistics are provided by Jaw-Nian Huang, a research team member for China Impact Studies.

header7 Future trajectory

The following are potential developments related to Beijing’s media influence in Taiwan that should be closely monitored in the coming years.

  • Local online influencers masking CCP narratives: The Chinese government likely mobilize more local collaborators to carry out propaganda and disinformation campaigns online. Some influencers may be used unwittingly, with the CCP employing multiple proxies to mask the effort’s origins, as there is a growing understanding that narratives coming directly from Beijing have little traction. CCP-linked actors could develop more sophisticated tactics to target Taiwanese users, employing big-data analysis of social media accounts to understand the preferences, interests, and ideological tendencies of Taiwanese people.
  • Meddling in elections and dividing public opinion: The CCP’s attempts to interfere in Taiwan’s democratic elections are unlikely to recede, and significant media manipulation efforts should be expected ahead of upcoming local and national balloting, even if there is a great awareness in Taiwanese society towards such tactics. Beijing will probably seize on the January 2024 presidential election—in which Tsai Ing-wen will not run due to term limits—as an opportunity to further divide public opinion through disinformation and other tactics.
  • Implementation of legislation on CCP influence: Long-standing Taiwanese laws like the Cross-Strait Act ban on CCP-linked propaganda and direct media investment in the country are important, but Beijing has successfully used proxies and local collaborators to reach Taiwanese news consumers, presenting the government with the challenge of regulating such activity without violating press freedom or freedom of speech. New legislation on foreign interference or amendments to existing laws would strengthen transparency mechanisms, including deeper reviews of shareholders investing in local companies, and foreign agents operating in the country. It remains to be seen whether these bills, once enacted, can be implemented in a way that counters CCP influence while protecting fundamental rights and diverse political viewpoints. There are concerns that the draft Foreign Influence Transparency Act, if enacted, could create a chilling effect on the freedom of individuals or media outlets to promote candidates or policies supported by Beijing; limit Taiwanese entrepreneurs’ rights to invest in and operate Taiwanese media organizations; label Taiwanese media owners as CCP collaborators; and stifle freedom of expression.
  • Greater protection for independent and diverse media: Taiwan’s government should dedicate greater resources to ensuring the existence and sustainability of an independent and diverse media sector, for instance by sponsoring an independent fund to support independent and pluralistic news outlets. The government could also establish a reasonable profit-sharing model between traditional media and online or social media to promote the long-term development and diversity of traditional media, address distortions and inequities in the information market, and ensure healthy competition across formats and platforms. Furthermore, more dedicated funding should be provided for public education and awareness around media literacy, especially non-news media such as celebrities and influencers pushing CCP narratives for market access or financial reasons.

On Taiwan

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  • Global Freedom Score

    94 100 free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    80 100 free

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