Editor’s Note: This article is part of our 2023 Writing Contest called The Taiwan Offensive, which took place from March 1, 2023 to July 31, 2023. More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.
Heath Sloane is a research analyst based in London, UK, and Masters graduate of Peking University’s Yenching Academy. He has worked for the Middle East Media Research Institute where his research includes Chinese strategic affairs. His research on Chinese and China-Middle Eastern / North African affairs has been translated and published in several leading international affairs. He can be found on Twitter at @HeathSloane.
Title: Assessment of the People’s Republic of China’s United Front Work Department, its Impact on Taiwan’s National Security, and Strategies to Combat Foreign Interference
Date Originally Written: July 10, 2023.
Date Originally Published: August 28, 2023.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author believes that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) United Front Work Department’s (UFWD) interference in Taiwan constitutes a political warfare offensive.
Summary: The PRC’s UFWD threatens democracies, particularly Taiwan, by exploiting the openness inherent to democratic societies. The UFWD combines military and non-military tactics in its offensive against Taiwan’s institutions. Taiwan’s countermeasures include legislation, education, and a state-civil society collaboration. Unless democracies remain vigilant in their defense against foreign interference, the UFWD will continue to be effective.
Text: The intricate tableau of global politics is marked by the fluctuating interplay of national interests, aspirations, and stratagems. One of the most prominent actors on this stage, the PRC, guided by General Secretary Xi Jinping, boasts an expansive and complex political infrastructure. Among its numerous political entities, the UFWD — an integral component of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — emerges as an entity of particular concern due to its amalgamation of both military and non-military tactics. The UFWD’s mode of operation poses a severe challenge to democratic nations across the globe, particularly those upholding the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the cultivation of a dynamic civil society.
The strength of the UFWD lies in its ability to exploit the inherent characteristics of democratic systems. Unlike the PRC’s command economy and authoritarian political structure, democratic nations embrace a liberal ethos that allows substantial latitude in civil society. This democratic openness becomes a significant point of exploitation for the UFWD. Consequently, comprehending the inner workings, methodologies, and objectives of the UFWD is a critical requirement for the democratic world in crafting an effective and proportionate response.
Taiwan, due to its unique historical bonds and political interplay with the PRC, finds itself at the epicentre of the UFWD’s operations. This positioning transforms Taiwan into an invaluable case study in unravelling the dynamics of foreign interference and devising counter-interference measures. Accordingly, this extensive analysis endeavours to explore Taiwan’s responses to the UFWD’s activities, extrapolate the broader geopolitical implications, and offer viable countermeasures for the global democratic community.
Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the UFWD has metamorphosed from a predominantly domestic entity into an apparatus deeply embedded in the PRC’s foreign policy machinery. This transformation is epitomised by the growth in the number of pro-CCP organisations operating in democratic nations worldwide, coupled with the escalating use of disinformation campaigns during critical political junctures. Such activities underscore the expanded global reach of the UFWD and highlight its potential to disrupt the democratic processes of various nations.
Yet, Taiwan has refused to be a mere spectator in the face of the UFWD’s interference. Taiwan’s Political Warfare Bureau, an institution harking back to Taiwan’s more authoritarian past, has effectively countered the UFWD’s aggressive manoeuvres. Over the years, this bureau has undergone considerable reforms to better align with Taiwan’s democratic norms, values, and institutions. This transformation has strengthened its capabilities to protect Taiwan’s democratic institutions from the covert activities of the UFWD.
Education serves as the cornerstone of Taiwan’s defence against the UFWD. The educational initiatives, geared towards the dual objectives of demystifying the ideology and tactics that drive the UFWD’s operations, and proliferating awareness about these operations among the military and civilian populations, empower Taiwanese society with the knowledge and tools to recognise and resist UFWD interference. Given the multifarious nature of the UFWD’s operations — which include political donations, espionage, and the establishment of pro-CCP cultural and social organisations — gaining an in-depth understanding of its diverse strategies is crucial for effecting a robust and sustained counteraction.
In conjunction with education, Taiwan’s Political Warfare Bureau has orchestrated a nationwide coordination of counter-interference initiatives. This broad-based network extends across the country’s civil society and national defence infrastructure, fostering an unprecedented level of collaboration between a wide array of national institutions. Regular briefings on UFWD activities, rigorous training programs, and the promotion of cross-institutional collaborations form the lynchpin of this response mechanism.
In the face of the UFWD’s interference, inaction or complacency could lead to dire consequences for Taiwan and democratic societies worldwide. The UFWD’s sophisticated tactics, flexibility, and adaptability make it a formidable adversary. In the absence of proactivity, the road may be paved for deeper and more disruptive infiltration into the political, social, and cultural landscapes of democracies. As such, the development of vigilant, comprehensive, and proactive countermeasures is of paramount importance.
Reflecting on Taiwan’s experiences and strategic responses, there is more that democratic nations could do to enhance democratic resilience against the UFWD. Democratic nations could delineate a clear legal definition for ‘foreign interference’ and incorporate this definition into the structural frameworks of relevant state institutions. This step will provide a solid legal foundation for counter-interference initiatives. Additionally, the concept of foreign interference could be integrated into national educational curricula, providing citizens with the necessary knowledge to identify and resist such activities. Finally, systematic training on identifying and countering foreign interference could be mandatory for all military personnel and staff within relevant state institutions.
Further, democracies could consider the establishment of a publicly-accessible monitoring centre, working in conjunction with national defence bodies, civil society organisations, and other institutions to identify, monitor, and publicise instances of foreign interference. The transparent and fact-based disclosure of individuals and organisations exposed to the UFWD will enable citizens and institutions within democracies to be responsive to malign elements in their midst.
The PRC’s UFWD poses a significant challenge to Taiwan’s national security and, more broadly, to democratic societies worldwide. Nonetheless, Taiwan’s experience in grappling with this entity offers a wealth of insights into devising effective counter-interference strategies. As the global geopolitical landscape continues to evolve, the UFWD’s reach continues to extend, necessitating democracies to remain vigilant, adaptable, and proactive in safeguarding their national security and democratic processes from foreign interference. The task ahead is daunting, but the stakes are high, and the preservation of democratic values and structures necessitates that no effort be spared.
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