Thursday, July 13, 2023

China-Taiwan Weekly Update, July 13, 2023

Authors: Nils Peterson of the Institute for the Study of War

Editors: Dan Blumenthal and Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute

Data Cutoff: July 12 at 9AM ET

The China–Taiwan Weekly Update focuses on Chinese Communist Party paths to controlling Taiwan and relevant cross–Taiwan Strait developments.

Key Takeaways

1.     Cross-strait issues have reemerged as the prominent topics of debate in the Taiwanese presidential election.

2.     The Cyberspace Administration of China renewed its crackdown on “self-media” to create an internet order governed by stricter central censorship.


Taiwan Developments

This section covers relevant developments pertaining to Taiwan, including its upcoming January 13, 2024 presidential and legislative elections.


The Taiwanese (Republic of China) political spectrum is largely divided between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT). The DPP broadly favors Taiwanese autonomy, Taiwanese identity, and skepticism towards China. The KMT favors closer economic and cultural relations with China along with a broader alignment with a Chinese identity. The DPP under President Tsai Ing-wen has controlled the presidency and legislature (Legislative Yuan) since 2016. This presidential election cycle also includes the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je who frames his movement as an amorphous alternative to the DPP and KMT. It is normal for Taiwanese presidential elections to have third party candidates, but none have ever won. The 2024 Taiwan presidential and legislative elections will be held on January 13, 2024 and the new president will take office in May 2024. Presidential candidates can win elections with a plurality of votes in Taiwan.

Cross-strait issues have reemerged as the prominent topics of debate in the Taiwanese presidential election. The sexual assault and barbiturate scandals that the Taiwanese media space focused on for most of May and June are no longer the top media stories, nor are they significantly shaping the election. DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen publicly apologized for the sexual assault scandal that primarily affected the DPP in early June and launched three internal party processes to prevent further sexual harassment in the party.[1] The barbiturate scandal that primarily affected KMT presidential candidate and New Taipei City mayor Hou Yu-ih in May to June prompted Hou to publicly apologize for the scandal.[2] New Taipei City’s education department randomly checked several dozen preschools and tested the blood of 34 children throughout June, but found no trace of barbiturates.[3] The KMT and DPP candidates’ remarks in early July moved the electoral narrative away from the scandals and back to focusing on cross-strait relations. KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih and DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te have separately re-emphasized the centrality of cross-strait issues for the election since early July, after media coverage of the scandals subsided.

  • Lai published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on July 4 detailing his “four-pillar plan for peace.” He called for increasing Taiwan’s military deterrence, treating economic security as a national security matter, partnering with democracies around the world, and supporting the cross-strait status quo.[4] The article ignited criticism from the KMT and TPP. KMT spokesperson Lin Jiaxing stated that Lai’s four pillars make it “difficult to maintain the status quo” and contain confrontational thinking that will exacerbate cross-strait tensions.[5] TPP presidential candidate Ko Wen-je criticized Lai’s four pillars as unachievable under a DPP administration because of its poor relations with China that make dialogue difficult.[6]
  • Lai also framed the presidential election as a choice between moving closer to the White House or Zhongnanhai (the CCP leadership compound). He stated Taiwan is moving closer to the White House under President Tsai Ing-wen and that he would continue leading the country in that direction as president.[7] This prompted the pan-blue media outlet China Times to criticize Lai as aiming for independence and being biased towards the United States.[8]
  • Hou Yu-ih recanted his opposition to extending mandatory conscription for Taiwanese men from four months to one year. Hou stated on July 3 that he would limit mandatory military service to four months to “ensure stability and peace on both sides of the strait.”[9] Hou stated on July 4 that he does not oppose the government’s plan to extend compulsory military service to one year but that he is opposed to the DPP’s “3+1” system. This system allows university students to complete both their degree and military service in four years.[10]

Implications of Cross-Strait Focus for Leading Candidates


The criteria for the implications column are the prominence of cross-strait issues during previous Taiwanese presidential elections and voter reception to current party cross-strait policy positions.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that Beijing is trying a “more subtle approach” to influence Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election. This “more subtle approach” involves the CCP not directly attacking the DPP as much as in previous elections.[11] Instead, the party takes a combination of coercive actions. SCMP cited an unnamed Taiwanese security source stating that the CCP aims to generate fear in Taiwan by equating a vote for the DDP with a vote for war. It also aimed to place the onus for cross-strait tensions on the DPP via messaging on TikTok and more frequent PLA military activity near Taiwan. The source claimed that the CCP is pushing narratives to the Taiwanese domestic audience that frame countries friendly to Taiwan, such as the United States, as unreliable.[12] The unnamed source also stated that the CCP coerces Taiwanese public opinion by “first suspend[ing] the import of certain Taiwanese products, only to resume shipments as the elections approached.”[13] This is consistent with ISW’s prior assessments that the CCP has leverage points over each of the Taiwanese presidential candidates regarding cross-strait policy due to the peace versus war election narrative framing.[14] The CCP’s efforts indicate that the party is setting conditions to shape the Taiwanese political landscape regardless of the outcome of the Taiwanese presidential election.     

China Developments

This section covers relevant developments pertaining to China and the governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The Cyberspace Administration of China renewed its crackdown on “self-media” to create an internet order governed by stricter central censorship. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) launched the crackdown on self-media in March 2023. It aimed to eliminate “harmful information” such as that which does “damage to the party and government image.”[15] The July 2023 regulations go further by forbidding censored accounts from making money and gaining followers and blocking other users from interacting with the censored accounts’ past posts. The new regulations also require the censored accounts to mark the time and date for all photos and videos and stipulate that those without timestamps will be marked as computer generated. Posts that include the logos of the party, government organizations, or the PLA require manual review.[16]

The CAC initially operationalized this crackdown by banning the social media accounts Health Insight and Media Camp that reported on Covid-19 governance scandals and investigative journalism in China, respectively.[17] The new regulations and crackdown show that the CCP aims for a stricter crackdown on self-media that it can centrally control, however.

The Fengqiao Experience may be the CCP’s framework for ensuring a backup form of internet control. The Fengqiao Experience refers to the party mobilizing the population to root out and shame alleged class enemies in China during the 1960s before the Cultural Revolution.[18] The Fengqiao Experience entailed the purging of party members—including Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun—which isolated them and their families from the rest of respectable Chinese society pending rehabilitation by party leadership. This process of isolation involved moving some, such as Xi’s family, to the Central Party School as social pariahs for re-education and persecution in struggle sessions during the Cultural Revolution.[19] The term Fengqiao Experience became disreputable due to its association with the Mao years. Xi has brought the term back since becoming General Secretary in 2013.[20] The new CAC regulations articulate virtual isolation along lines somewhat similar way to the societal purges of the Fengqiao Experience. The CAC crackdown aims to deny users the ability to show solidarity with a censored user by interacting with their posts.

The party has also drawn on the Fengqiao Experience for offline informal societal policing functions. The party has held summits praising community policing groups, such as the Chaoyang Masses and Wulin Aunties, under the banner of the Fengqiao Experience.[21] These groups function as a semi-decentralized force to ensure “correct” behavior that does not stray from the party’s political line or breach societal norms. The CCP could replicate the informal system of neighbors reporting on each through groups like the Wulin Aunties in online settings via anonymous reporting for users suspected of violating CAC “self-media” guidelines.

[1] https://news.ltn dot

 https://news.ltn dot

https://news.ltn dot

https://www.chinatimes dot com/newspapers/20230603000359-260118?chdtv

[2] https://www.cna dot

https://www.cna dot

[5] http://www.kmt dot

[6] https://news.ltn dot

https://www.chinatimes dot com/realtimenews/20230709003283-260407?chdtv

https://www.cna dot

[7] https://www.rti dot

[9] https://udn dot com/news/story/123307/7275541

https://www.taiwannews dot

[10] https://www.taiwannews dot

https://www.cna dot

[11] https://www.scmp dot com/news/china/politics/article/3227214/mainland-china-running-more-subtle-campaign-sway-2024-vote-taipei-says?module=lead_hero_story&pgtype=homepage

[12] https://www.scmp dot com/news/china/politics/article/3227214/mainland-china-running-more-subtle-campaign-sway-2024-vote-taipei-says?module=lead_hero_story&pgtype=homepage

[13] https://www.scmp dot com/news/china/politics/article/3227214/mainland-china-running-more-subtle-campaign-sway-2024-vote-taipei-says?module=lead_hero_story&pgtype=homepage

[15] http://www.cac dot

http://society.people dot

[16] http://www.cac dot

[17] https://www.scmp dot com/news/china/politics/article/3226666/chinese-online-media-outlets-suspended-censors-tighten-grip

[19] http://politics.people dot

Chun Han Wong, Party of One: The Rise of Xi Jinping and China’s Superpower Future (New York, NY: Avid Reader Press, 2023), 24-25.