Taiwan on Tuesday passed an anti-infiltration law in a bid to counter Chinese interference in its democratic process ahead of a general election next month.
The democratic island's Legislative Yuan passed the Anti-Infiltration Law after repeated warnings from national security agencies that China is pouring in backdoor resources and stepping up "United Front" propaganda work to boost support for the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), or nationalist party.
The new law forbids any organizations or individuals sponsored by foreign powers from providing political contributions, campaigning, lobbying, or disseminating fake news meant to interfere in elections.
It becomes law as lawmakers in the U.S. and Australia have enacted similar legislation to prevent foreign interference and to monitor foreign influence.
Yen Ming-wei, spokesman for the pro-independence party Taiwan Radical Wings, welcomed the new law.
"Ever since [former KMT] president Ma Ying-jeou started letting [Chinese Communist Party] United Front officials off the hook, we have had a succession of [Chinese] spies who have been released as well," Yen said, citing the Chinese executives of a Hong Kong-based investment company who were questioned by the authorities and then released following allegations that they were working for Beijing.
"Taiwan has always been manipulated by China, whether it's to raise capital, to spy or to infiltrate our political sphere," he said. "Our democracy has been eroded, piece by piece ... and we want to defend our hard-won democracy and keep reminding the people of Taiwan that it is being invaded and infiltrated by China."
Luo Yi, chairman of the Free Taiwan Party, called on pro-China parties to sever their affiliation with China and embrace the vision of establishing Taiwan as a new, sovereign state.
"The Anti-Infiltration Law was urgent, because clearly the pro-China parties and the agents of the Chinese Communist Party would be able to interfere [in our democracy] if they weren't restrained by it," Luo said.
"They would gradually cannibalize Taiwan's democracy, which is still unstable, step by step," he said.
Curbing Chinese lobbying
Taipei city councilor Miao Poya said the new regulations didn't go far enough, however, and called for a ban on accepting instructions from a foreign power to participate in an election.
Lai Chung-chiang, convenor of the Economic Democracy Union and the Taiwan Citizen Front, said it was important to curb Chinese lobbying of the next Legislative Yuan before it was elected.
"We don't know what kind of lobbying the Chinese Communist Party will do in the new Legislative Yuan to overturn ... our national security laws and democratic defense mechanisms established by the Yuan," Lai said.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) incumbent Tsai Ing-wen looks set to win a second term when the country goes to the polls on Jan. 11.
In Beijing, a spokeswoman for the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office warned of unspecified consequences.
"Those who provoke hostility must eat their own bitter fruit," Zhu Fenglian was quoted as saying by the official China News Service.
The bill, which passed by 67 votes to zero despite opposition criticism, was fast-tracked by the ruling DPP after the KMT nominated at-large candidates for the legislature with close ties to China's Communist Party, including retired Taiwan generals.
Prosecutors in December detained 10 people, including a former KMT staffer, on suspicion of falsifying documents to bring thousands of mainland Chinese to Taiwan, possibly including some who were collecting intelligence.
Concerns have also been raised about Beijing's influence over Taiwanese media groups, many of which are owned by corporations with ties to China.
Support for the KMT, a party that fled to Taiwan in 1949 and still wants it to be part of a "unified" China some day, is at a new low on the democratic island ahead of next month's election.
Extremely thin support for 'unification'
The Global Views Research annual public opinion survey said the violent suppression of Hong Kong's anti-government protests had sparked growing fears for Taiwan's national security and democracy, although an internal power struggle in the party had contributed.
Currently, only 4.5 percent of Taiwanese support the idea of "unification" with China, something that Chinese President Xi Jinping has said must happen eventually, by force if necessary.
By contrast, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been outspoken against any rapprochement with China.
President Tsai has been a vocal supporter of Hong Kong protesters' aspirations for full democracy, and against the use of police violence and political prosecutions to target protesters, and told a recent presidential election debate that China is the biggest threat to Taiwan's way of life.
Chinese president Xi Jinping said in a Jan. 2 speech that Taiwan must be "unified" with China. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) echoed the sentiment in a military white paper in July.
Tsai has repeatedly responded that Taiwan's 23 million population have no wish to give up their sovereignty.
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the KMT as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.
It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.
Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.